The New York Police Department’s explanation that more Hispanics and Blacks are arrested on pot charges because complaints are higher in their communities doesn’t hold up.
While there are many ways to get detained on pot charges, one pattern has stayed true through decades of policy changes in the city: The primary targets are blacks and Hispanics.
Visit almost any courtroom in the city, and they fill the pews. Black, young men, waiting to talk to a judge about a crime that isn’t a crime in many states: possess marijuana. The young men talk about smoking in a housing project hallway or being in a car with a friend who was smoking.
Throughout the city, blacks are arrested on low-level charges at eight times the rate of white, non-Hispanic persons over the past three years. The New York Times found Hispanic persons were arrested at five times the rate. Go to Manhattan and the chasm is even bitter. There, blacks are arrested at 15 times the rate of whites.
Even as crime drops in The Big Apple and the police remain under pressure to justify the low-level arrests, a senior cop told lawmakers that more residents in black and Hispanic neighborhoods call to complain about pot smokers.
An analysis by The New York Times found that wasn’t exactly true. What The Times found is among neighborhoods where people called about marijuana at the same rate, blacks were arrested at a higher rate in the areas with more black residents.
For example, officers in the precinct which includes Canarsie detained people at rates which were over four times as high as the precinct which includes Greenpoint.
The Canarsie precinct is 85% black. Greenpoint? 4% black.
The newspaper’s analysis, blended with interviews with defendants facing pot charges, attorneys, and police officials, paint a picture of uneven enforcement. In some communities, cops are expected by their commanders to be aggressive on the streets, look for marijuana smell on the streets and detain people who are smoking.
Black neighborhoods content with more violent crime and more cops are deployed there. That means residents are more exposed to law enforcement. Nevertheless, marijuana arrests in the city are associated with reductions in serious crime although there is no good evidence of that.
Government surveys show blacks and whites smoke pot at about the same rate. Marijuana smoke drifts down streets all over the city. From the brownstones in upper-class areas of Manhattan to apartment buildings in working-class neighborhoods.