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NYPD is still singling out blacks and Hispanics for weed arrests

by Tess Owen
Jul 11 2017, 11:14am

When it comes to low-level drug arrests, the NYPD is no less biased than it was 20 years ago. That’s according to a report released Tuesday by the Drug Policy Alliance, which shows that black and Hispanic New Yorkers account for 87 percent of marijuana arrests under Mayor Bill de Blasio, even though blacks and Hispanics are just 42 percent of the population.

The data, collected since de Blasio took office in 2014, shows that even with the end of the NYPD’s stop-and-frisk policy, blacks and Hispanics make up virtually the same percentage of pot arrests as they did during the administrations of Mike Bloomberg and Rudy Giuliani.

The report shows that blacks and Hispanics accounted for 86.87 percent of low-level marijuana arrests since de Blasio became mayor. That’s compared to 86.75 percent during Bloomberg’s three-term tenure, and 86.25 percent on average under Giuliani.

De Blasio, in his bid for mayor, made curbing racial bias within the NYPD and reining in low-level drug arrests a cornerstone of his campaign. But as he sets his sights on re-election, these figures show that little has changed in terms of reality on the streets.

Research has repeatedly shown that white people smoke about the same amount of pot as black and Hispanic people do. Data from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health found that nearly 46 percent of whites over the age of 12 had used marijuana in their lifetime, compared to about 40 percent of blacks and 30 percent of Hispanics. By comparison, about 12 percent of whites acknowledged using marijuana in the last year, compared to around 14 percent of blacks and 11 percent of Hispanics.

Low-level marijuana arrests rose 9 percent between 2015 and 2016. Despite the uptick, the overall number of weed arrests were still significantly lower than 2014’s figures, due in part to a major NYPD policy change that year. Police Commissioner Bill Bratton announced that individuals caught with less than 25 grams of marijuana would no longer be arrested, but would instead receive a non-criminal summons.

Under de Blasio, the NYPD has made an average of about 20,000 marijuana-possession arrests per year. That’s less than half the number of average marijuana arrests under Bloomberg, but nearly three times higher than marijuana arrests during the Giuliani years.

The report also explores how some parts of New York are subject to a larger number of arrests than others are. For example, last year, out of a total of more than 18,000 arrests for marijuana possession citywide, the NYPD made just 14 arrests on the well-heeled Upper East Side, home to some of New York’s wealthiest residents, compared to 622 arrests in West Harlem.

But weed use knows no class; rich kids like to smoke weed just as much as poor or middle-class kids do. State Sen. Liz Kreuger, who represents that district, has long been a vocal proponent of marijuana decriminalization, and has often underscored the fact that her constituents get an easier ride than people who live in less affluent neighborhoods.

“I have a very white, upper-middle class district,” Kreuger told a reporter from Politico in 2013. “The kids of my constituents are not getting busted, and if they get busted, they have really good lawyers and they’re not ending up with criminal records.

Head north, and you’ll hit East Harlem, where 88 percent of residents are black or Latino. By comparison, police in that precinct made nearly 500 low-level marijuana possession arrests last year.

“Number’s don’t lie,” Kassandra Frederique, the New York State director of the Drug Policy Alliance, wrote. “Sixty thousand marijuana possession arrests, 86 percent of them of black and Latino New Yorkers, is a far cry from the mayor’s pledge to rein in the NYPD’s targeting of people of color.”