WEED THE PEO­PLE

Marijuana has more in com­mon with al­co­hol & tobacco than it does with harder drugs. That, along with years of un­fair en­force­ment, leads us to de­clare: It’s time to le­gal­ize pot in N.Y.

New York Daily News - - FRONT PAGE - BY SETH BAR­RON

Are­cent flurry of news ar­ti­cles, campaign state­ments and press con­fer­ences has cen­tered at­ten­tion, once again, on the ques­tion of racial dis­par­i­ties in polic­ing in New York City, in par­tic­u­lar re­gard­ing ar­rests for smok­ing marijuana. The dis­trict at­tor­neys of Brook­lyn and Man­hat­tan have sworn to stop pros­e­cut­ing most pot busts, and Mayor de Bla­sio has sud­denly or­dered the NYPD to come up with a plan to end “un­nec­es­sary” ar­rests for smok­ing and pos­sess­ing pot.

The new push re­flects out­rage that marijuana ar­rests appear to be driven by race. City Coun­cil­man Dono­van Richards, chair­man of the Pub­lic Safety Com­mit­tee, an­nounced that the whole con­ver­sa­tion about pot ar­rests is “to end the racist pol­icy of tar­get­ing pri­mar­ily black and Latino peo­ple.”

And it is cer­tainly true that 86% of the peo­ple ar­rested for weed are black or Latino, though they com­prise only 51.4% of the to­tal pop­u­la­tion of New York­ers and, ac­cord­ing to most re­search, use the drug at roughly the same rates as whites, though with dif­fer­ent pat­terns of us­age.

But to cat­e­go­rize these ar­rests as overt ev­i­dence of so­ci­etal racism — or as Al Sharp­ton said Tues­day at City Hall, “the crim­i­nal­iza­tion of blacks” — is to miss the larger con­text of crime and polic­ing in the city.

Marijuana ar­rest rates aren’t es­pe­cially un­usual when you look at the com­mu­ni­ties they take place in. Asked to ex­plain the ba­sis on which marijuana en­force­ment is car­ried out across New York, the NYPD in­sists that it takes a re­ac­tive pos­ture: Ar­rests are driven by com­mu­nity com­plaint. In a hear­ing in Feb­ru­ary, Chief Der­mot Shea made the point that a com­bi­na­tion of 311 and 911 calls, as well as con­cerns made at com­mu­nity meet­ings or to com­mu­nity af­fairs of­fi­cers, are the pri­mary con­sid­er­a­tions in col­lar­ing pot smok­ers.

At a press con­fer­ence Tues­day, Coun­cil Speaker Corey John­son bran­dished a num­ber of maps com­par­ing com­plaint data (based on calls) and ar­rests for marijuana. John­son in­sisted the data “shows the enor­mous dis­par­ity that ex­ists, precinct by precinct, neigh­bor­hood by neigh­bor­hood,” and that “the num­bers don’t add up.”

But the data doesn’t re­ally say what the ad­vo­cates want it to. By and large, com­plaints do track ar­rests, and where they don’t, race is not a pri­mary fac­tor.

It is true that dif­fer­ent precincts show dif­fer­ent lev­els of marijuana-spe­cific com­plaints and ar­rests. Some ar­eas with a high con­cen­tra­tion of pot com­plaints and ar­rests — cen­tral Brook­lyn, Har­lem, Wash­ing­ton Heights, the South Bronx — are pri­mar­ily black and Latino. These neigh­bor­hoods have rel­a­tively high crime, so it is plau­si­ble that the po­lice could just be trolling for pot smoke and mak­ing pre­tex­tual ar­rests.

But other neigh­bor­hoods, like As­to­ria, Queens, and Chi­na­town, have sim­i­larly high rates of com­plaints and ar­rests for marijuana, but are largely white and Asian; As­to­ria has one of the low­est rates of se­ri­ous crime in the city.

Sim­i­larly, the 105th Precinct in east­ern Queens, which is mostly black, is not a high-crime area, though it too has a large num­ber of marijuana com­plaints and ar­rests. All of these neigh­bor­hoods are work­ing-class com­mu­ni­ties where av­er­age cit­i­zens — the over­whelm­ing ma­jor­ity of whom in­dis­putably do not smoke marijuana in pub­lic — are an­noyed by groups of peo­ple who gather on stoops or cor­ners or parks to hang out, play mu­sic, gam­ble, drink and smoke pot.

Coun­cil­man Fer­nando Cabr­era, at the Feb­ru­ary hear­ing, struck a con­trar­ian note, say­ing, “peo­ple in my com­mu­nity, when they call 311 or 911, want a re­sponse . . . they are dis­turbed when they go out­side and peo­ple are smok­ing pot.” Cabr­era pointed out that his dis­trict is over­whelm­ingly Latino, so the ques­tion of dis­pro­por­tion­al­ity isn’t a fac­tor: The com­plaints aren’t race­based, be­cause ev­ery­one is the same race. But the com­plaints are real.

Ad­vo­cates for end­ing pot ar­rests want to end the “era of mass in­car­cer­a­tion,” which has dis­pro­por­tion­ately im­pacted mi­nori­ties. But al­most no­body goes to prison just for hav­ing or smok­ing pot. The NYPD ar­rests al­most 20,000 peo­ple an­nu­ally for smok­ing marijuana, but on an av­er­age day there are only four peo­ple in jail in New York City for a pot charge, in­clud­ing peo­ple serv­ing a jail sen­tence, or who are be­ing held for pa­role vi­o­la­tions or out­stand­ing war­rants.

While 86% of marijuana ar­rests sounds bad when blacks and Lati­nos are only 51.4% of the pop­u­la­tion, the same im­bal­ance ex­ists across the spec­trum of crim­i­nal ac­tiv­ity. Based on vic­tim re­ports, 84.7% of rape sus­pects in 2016 were black or Latino, robbery sus­pects were 93.4% black or Latino, and shoot­ing sus­pects were 97.6% black or Latino. Are cops re­ally mak­ing sub­jec­tive, dis­cre­tionary ar­rests for pot out of racial bias, at a lower rate than the rate of se­ri­ous crime by racial group?

None of this is to say that pot should not be made le­gal, or that pros­e­cu­tors should or should not charge peo­ple ar­rested for it. Those are so­cial choices, and there may be ex­cel­lent rea­sons for quasi-le­gal­iza­tion. But there is no ev­i­dence that cur­rent en­force­ment is based on racial bias.

Cops go where crime is

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