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by Peter Moskos

October 25, 2010

Smoke and Horrors

Charles Blow of the New York Times write about drugs (and yes, that is his real name), specifically about the racial disparity in marijuana arrests. Some people just don't seem to care, but it seems to be a fundamental issue about fairness in justice.

Whites and blacks smoke weed at nearly similar rates (actually whites smoke more), and yet blacks get arrested for it far more often. This report reflects more good work by Queens College professor Harry Levine:
From 2006 through 2008, police in 25 of California's major cities have ar­rested blacks for low-level marijuana possession at four, five, six, seven and even twelve times the rate of whites.

The City of Los Angeles, with ten percent of California's population, arrested blacks for marijuana possession at seven times the rate of whites.

These racially-biased marijuana arrests were a system-wide phenomenon, occurring in every county and nearly every police department in California. They were not mainly the result of individual prejudice or racism. In making these arrests, patrol officers were doing what they were assigned to do.
Doesn't that matter?


DJK said...

Another good one. It also announces that: "In a coordinated move, the National Latino Officers Association, citing marijuana prohibition's disproportionate impact on Latinos, today endorsed Proposition 19, California's pot legalization initiative. The National Black Police Association and the California NAACP are supporting Prop. 19 for similar reasons."



MisguidedPotential said...

I don't see why this is a surprise, or wholly based on injustice. To me, this reflects the ways in which Whites and Blacks smoke marijuana. Blacks are far more likely to carry and smoke marijuana in public. Also, you are much more likely to make a lot more marijuana arrests by taking a stroll/ride through the ghetto, as opposed to rolling through a high-class neighborhood. More blacks get arrested because they are more likely to be lingering outside or "public" places with marijuana, as with whites they seem to mostly smoke within their own residences - police entering such buildings is rare and even then, they would need a warrant to enter someone's place.

One unethical reason I can think of is NYPD loves to pin random bud found in hallways, etc, to people, and also plays the "empty your pockets trick" to avoid violating stop and frisk procedural law.

PCM said...

Blacks are more likely to smoke marijuana in public? I find that absurd. From my experience, I think the opposite.

As a cop, I saw people take all kinds of drugs. I saw a junky sitting at a bus stop with a needle sticking out of him arm ("Imagine my surprise!" I wrote on my arrest report). I never, not once, saw a black guy just walking down the street smoking a joint.

But I agree with you in general on the public/private distinction.

MisguidedPotential said...

Well, my experiences are only with seeing people arrested brought in and their charges. I see plenty of varied PL 220.XX charges (at least, I can speak for Kings County), usually marijuana in public, among minorities. I should amend my earlier statement to possession of marijuana in public, not actively smoking. I'm sure White people smoke just as much marijuana; hell, in my experience among people I know, even more, but it seems to me that public/private distinction is a pretty plausible argument for much of the disparity in arrests. Another factor is where police patrol resources go to, high crime areas.

At the end of the day, enforcing marijuana laws and not legalizing it is a true loss for all, law enforcement.