There’s been a lot of talk in recent years about changing weed-related policing practices in New York City. But a new report released today shows that those changes are slow in coming. According to the report, there continue to be widespread racial disparities in weed arrests throughout the city.
A New Report
Over the past few years, New Yorkers have experienced what from the outset is a sea-change with police procedure and racial profiling. Under Mayor Bill de Blasio’s current administration, we’ve seen a moratorium on the inherently biased stop-and-frisk policy, for instance. But how much progress have we really made? If you go by data compiled by the New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services, not much. Especially concerning weed arrests in the area.
According to a new study published by the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA), 52,730 people who were arrested for cannabis possession between 2014-2016 were people of color, compared to 8,260 who were Caucasian. Percentage-wise, this means that 86 percent of those arrested were either black or Latinx. Considering that 51 percent of New York’s City’s population is comprised of people of color, the stats are staggering—and weed arrests made are wildly disproportionate.
But wait, it gets worse. Participants from each racial group responded that they partook in recreational pot use at about the same rate, but that white respondents used at a slightly higher frequency. Translation? White people consume cannabis more than their POC peers, but POC people are targeted for arrests more frequently.
Unfortunately, this particular trend is highly precedented. Even though de Blasio made promising strides for decriminalization in 2014, it had no particular effect on the disparity between weed arrests and racial profiling. As far back as 1987, 79% of arrests for cannabis possession were of people of color—only slightly less than the rate of POC arrests today. And that was during Ed Koch’s mayorship. Even Rudy Giuliani only tapped out at 85%.
NYPD Targets POC Neighborhoods For Weed Arrests
While the report also shows a decrease in arrests for possession overall, it’s telling that the ratio of POC weed arrests to white weed arrests has remained the same, terming them “Jim Crow arrests.”
So why does this disparity continue? The answer is simple: police tend to target black or Latinx neighborhoods, roughly 37 out of NYC’s 76 in total. Within these neighborhoods, 92% of those arrested are people of color. Around 52% of arrests occur in these neighborhoods alone. Even worse? The majority of those arrested are students or young workers. Roughly 76% do not have previous records, let alone for misdemeanors.
Balancing The Scales
What can we do to right this injustice?
“Marijuana possession arrests should stop immediately,” stated DPA director Kassandra Frederique in the report.”We strongly recommend that police and district attorneys in the five boroughs of New York City immediately cease arresting, charging, and prosecuting anyone for violation of (this law).”