Stop NYPD's racially-targeted marijuana arrest crusade
Here's the message we sent to our members. After you’ve read it, please add your voice.
Dear ColorOfChange.org member,
New York City's police are targeting Black and Latino neighborhoods with a massive campaign of harassment and illegal frisks and searches, in a push for marijuana arrests. These arrests give thousands of young people a criminal record which can ruin their lives.
Of the tens of thousands of people arrested for possessing small amounts of marijuana each year, 86% are Black or Latino while just 11% are White — even though White people use marijuana at higher rates.1 Marijuana possession is supposed to be treated like a traffic violation under state law, but NYC police are falsely charging people with having marijuana "in public view." It's outrageous, and it needs to stop now.
Mayor Bloomberg is the one person who can immediately order NYPD to stop this — and more than ever, he's being challenged on this issue by city council members, the media, and the public. Please join us in calling on Mayor Bloomberg to end this racially-biased, destructive and expensive policy:
Twisting and abusing the law
Marijuana was decriminalized in New York in 1977, and possession of small amounts of marijuana became a violation that triggers a $100 fine, and doesn't result in arrest. At the time, a law was also put in place to punish people who smoke marijuana public — making it a misdemeanor to have marijuana "in public view." Now, police are abusing this law to arrest large numbers of people for marijuana possession.
Most people arrested for marijuana in New York aren't actually guilty of having it "in public view." In some cases, police trick people by asking them to "empty out your pockets." Many people don't know that they're not legally required to do so, and comply with the officer's request. Once in "public view," the marijuana possession becomes a misdemeanor — a criminal offense — and the person is arrested. In many other cases, police conduct a full search, reaching into a person's pockets (illegally, since they have no warrant). When they find marijuana, they make an arrest and falsely charge the person under the "public view" law.2
Many of these cases are thrown out by prosecutors — a prosecutor in the Bronx DA's office said that her office alone throws out 10-15 of these cases a day, because the police paperwork itself says that the marijuana was not in public view (i.e. that police pulled it out of someone's pocket).3 But tens of thousands of people are swept into the criminal justice system through these arrests. Marijuana possession arrests create permanent criminal records and can lead to trouble applying to school and jobs, eviction from public housing, and can even cause someone's children to be taken away from them.
Targeting Black and Latino youth
Black and Latino youth in New York City feel most of the impact of this abusive law enforcement practice. Blacks and Latinos account for 86% of the marijuana arrests in New York City, and almost 70% of people arrested for marijuana are under 30 years old.4 But government studies show that Blacks and Latinos use marijuana less than Whites -- 58.6% of Whites reported having used marijuana in their lifetime, versus 48.3% of Black people.5
This policy doesn't just affect people caught with small amounts of marijuana — it hurts entire communities. With police mostly targeting Black and Latino neighborhoods for random frisks and searches, harassment by police has become a daily reality for many young people of color in New York City.
NYPD officers are under intense pressure to make as many arrests as possible,6 and marijuana arrests can be a relatively easy way for them to meet quotas. That's part of why these arrest have become such a huge portion of what NYPD officers do — arrests for small amounts of marijuana are now the number one arrest in New York City, one out of every seven arrests.7 Under Mayor Bloomberg, New York City's police have arrested more people for marijuana than they did under Mayors Koch, Dinkins, and Giuliani combined.8
That's a huge amount of time and energy that police could spend focusing on more serious crimes. And these arrests are hugely expensive — they cost the city roughly $75 million a year.9 That money could go a long way in many other areas, at a time when a tight city budget is causing cuts to schools and all kinds of important services and programs.
Momentum for change
Thanks in large part to our partners at the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA), this misguided policy has come under major scrutiny, and Mayor Bloomberg's administration is under increasing pressure to change it. A series of reports from DPA have documented the problems with this policy and drawn media attention to the issue, forcing a rare public response from the police department. Meanwhile, city council members have joined everyday people in protesting the policy. And momentum is building in Albany behind a bill that would close the loophole which police are abusing to make these arrests.
By demanding action from Mayor Bloomberg, we can keep the media focused on the issue and increase the pressure on the Mayor to make a change. At the same time, it will let lawmakers in Albany know that the public cares about this issue and wants them to act.
Now is the time to demand change. Please join us and our partners at the Drug Policy Alliance and the Institute for Juvenile Justice Reform and Alternatives in calling on Mayor Bloomberg to end the NYPD's marijuana arrests crusade:
Thanks and Peace,
-- Rashad, James, Gabriel, William, Dani, Matt, Natasha, and the rest of the ColorOfchange.org team
May 4th, 2016
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1. "Marijuana Arrests in NYC," Drug Policy Alliance, 4-1-11
2. "Alleged Illegal Searches by NYPD May Be Increasing Marijuana Arrests" (Part 1), WNYC News, 4-26-11
3. "Alleged Illegal Searches by NYPD May Be Increasing Marijuana Arrests" (Part 2), WNYC News, 4-27-11
4. See reference 1.
5. "2005 Tables: Illicit Drug Use," SAMHSA Office of Applied Studies
6. Eyewitness News investigation on police quotas, WABC, 3-5-2010
7. See reference 1.
8. "50,000 Pot Arrests In 2010 In NYC," MyFoxNY, 2-10-11
9. "The Cost of NYC's Marijuana Possession Arrests in 2010: $75 Million," Drug Policy Alliance, 3-15-11