New Data Shows NYPD Continued Racially-Biased, Illegal Marijuana Arrest Crusade in 2011 -- Despite Commissioner's Order

Despite the internal memo NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly sent in September, advising police to follow the law and stop making bogus pot arrests, new data shows the NYPD arrested more than 50,000 people for minor pot offenses in 2011, breaking city records for petty pet arrests in the past decade. 

The new numbers, compiled by theDrug Policy Alliance and Queens College sociologist Harry Levine,  add outrage to what was already an infuriating situation: Kelly's memo was a response to widespread allegations that police were illegally charging and arresting people -- mostly black and Latino --  for misdemeanor marijuana possession. In New York, holding small amounts of marijuana is decriminalized until it is burning or in public view, at which point it becomes an arrestable, finger-printable offense that threatens student loan and public housing accessibility. 

More New Yorkers have been arrested for petty pot charges in the past five years than from 1978-2001, doubtfully because more people are walking around outside, lighting up. Instead, it seems the NYPD is using stop-and-frisk to find pot in people's pockets. Once cops pull it out, they charge and arrest people as if the weed was always in public view.  This important discrepancy was the target of Kelly's clearly ineffectively memo.

Making matters worse is that both stop-and-frisk and pot arrests target young members of low-income, black and Latino communities: Roughly 85% of stop-and-frisks, as well as pot arrests, are for people of color. 

"These new numbers go hand in hand with what know to be true in the everyday lives of young people of color in the targeted neighborhoods,”  Kyung Ji Rhee, juvenile justice project director at the Center for NuLeadership, said in a press release, “The number of requests for our know your rights trainings have shot up.  Stories of illegal searches, disdainful and racist remarks, not to mention illegal marijuana arrests continue unabated without any accountability."

Stop-and-frisk, as well as bogus pot arrests, can have devastating effects on community relations with police. But Kelly's memo was not taken seriously.  Marijuana arrests actually increased slightly in 2011, meaning the NYPD continues to focus resources on harmless marijuana crimes -- so many, in fact, that minor pot charges generate more arrests than any other crime in the city. 

"It is disappointing to continue to see these marijuana arrest numbers rise, even in the face of the Commissioner's directive," said Council Member Melissa Mark-Viverito, "This increase continues to reinforce the need for a change in State law that would de-criminalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana. The Commissioner's directive, which reminded officers that they should not arrest individuals for possession of marijuana after asking them to empty their pockets, was clearly not enough to put a stop to this police practice which does nothing to improve public safety. We need real action to stop the criminalization of our city's youth and communities of color."

Read more on the recent data here

AlterNet / By Kristen Gwynne

Posted at February 2, 2012, 7:46am

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