Bill de Blasio's NYPD Keeps Sticking Mostly Blacks and Latinos in Jail for Low-Level Pot Offenses

His top cop Bill Bratton seems unaware that pot has been decriminalized . . . since 1977.
The NYPD continues to toss blacks and Latinos in jail for low-level pot offenses, despite Mayor Bill de Blasio's campaign pledge to end arrests for possession of small amounts of marijuana.
Data assembled by the Marijuana Arrest Research Project indicates that the NYPD under de Blasio has managed to pull slightly ahead of the Bloomberg administration's 2013 arrest rates for pot possession. In the first 4 months of 2014, police have arrested an average of 80 people per day for small amounts of pot; the average last year was 78. 
The department is also continuing the proud NYPD tradition of primarily targeting young minorities in poor neighborhoods. Blacks and Latinos make up 86 percent of those arrested, even though research shows that they do not use drugs at higher rates than whites. 79 percent of those arrested are between the ages of 16 and 34. Pot busts for possession in wealthy areas continue to occur at almost comically lower rates than in poor neighborhoods. So far, there have been just 8 possession arrests in the Upper East side, compared to 500 in East New York in Brooklyn and 392 in Morris Heights in the Bronx. 
A 1977 state law bars police from arresting anybody for small amounts of pot unless it's out in the open, but the NYPD has a clever workaround. 
"Based on anecdotal and statistical information over the years, in many of these arrests, police are requiring young people to empty out their pockets. Once that happens they can charge possession as a misdemeanor," Loren Siegel of the Marijuana Arrest Research Project tells AlterNet. "Apparently Mayor de Blasio has not instructed his police commissioner to change that policy."
Commissioner Bratton, for his part, recently appeared unaware that the 1977 law even existed. In response to criticism of the high number of marijuana arrests at a recent City Council meeting, the Commissioner replied, “The idea of decriminalizing marijuana, I think, is a major mistake and something I will never support.”
Busting people for small amounts of pot fits with Bratton's broken-windows theory of policing, which posits that cracking down on low-level crimes leads to a reduction in more violent criminal activity. But a 2012 study by Human Right's Watch highlighted in the New York Times found that only 3 percent of people jailed for pot end up committing violent felonies.
Meanwhile, an arrest creates a permanent criminal record that can be easily accessed by credit agencies, employees and landlords. It can bar people from professions that require state licensing like nursing or working as a security guard. 
During his Mayoral campaign de Blasio himself highlighted the impact of a single pot arrest. "Low-level marijuana possession arrests have disastrous consequences for individuals and their families. These arrests limit one’s ability to qualify for student financial aid and undermine one’s ability to find stable housing and good jobs."
For a weekly roundup of news and developments in the drug reform movement and the injustices stemming from prohibition,  sign up to receive  AlterNet's Drugs Newsletter. Make sure to scroll down to "Drugs" and subscribe.

Tana Ganeva is a reporter covering criminal justice, drug policy and homelessness. Follow her on Twitter @TanaGaneva.

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