Marijuana Arrest Statistics Show Racist Nature of Our ‘Justice’ System

The New York Times has a long-form piece of excellent investigative journalism that looks at the massive disparity in arrest rates for marijuana possession in the city. Despite the fact that blacks, whites and Latinos smoke pot at almost exactly the same rates, the disparity in who gets arrested for it is staggering.

Across the city, black people were arrested on low-level marijuana charges at eight times the rate of white, non-Hispanic people over the past three years, The New York Times found. Hispanic people were arrested at five times the rate of white people. In Manhattan, the gap is even starker: Black people there were arrested at 15 times the rate of white people.

With crime dropping and the Police Department under pressure to justify the number of low-level arrests it makes, a senior police official recently testified to lawmakers that there was a simple reason for the racial imbalance: More residents in predominantly black and Hispanic neighborhoods were calling to complain about marijuana.

An analysis by The Times found that fact did not fully explain the racial disparity. Instead, among neighborhoods where people called about marijuana at the same rate, the police almost always made arrests at a higher rate in the area with more black residents, The Times found.

In Brooklyn, officers in the precinct covering Canarsie arrested people on marijuana possession charges at a rate more than four times as high as in the precinct that includes Greenpoint, despite residents calling 311, the city’s help line, and 911 to complain about marijuana at the same rate, police data show. The Canarsie precinct is 85 percent black. The Greenpoint precinct is 4 percent black.

In Queens, the marijuana arrest rate is more than 10 times as high in the precinct covering Queens Village as it is in precinct that serves Forest Hills. Both got marijuana complaints at the same rate, but the Queens Village precinct is just over half black, while the one covering Forest Hills has a tiny portion of black residents.

You will find this identical pattern in every major city in the country. You find it not only with marijuana possession, but with virtually every crime and every suspected one. Blacks and Latinos are pulled over far more often on the roads than whites even though whites are more likely to be caught with contraband when their cars are searched. Blacks and Latinos are stopped walking down the street far more often, as in New York’s appalling Stop and Frisk program.

We treat everyone with dark skin as a threat. Studies show that when we interact with people of different races, even just in photographs, we perceive black men in particular to be physically larger than they are, and more threatening. And this holds true even if they’re wearing a nice suit and being compared to a white guy dressed like a thug. It’s ingrained into our brains by the avalanche of negative images of black and Latino men in popular culture, images that push our buttons of fear and tribalism in very dangerous ways.

And this, my friends, is what some NFL players are protesting. And it’s very real, to the point of being undeniable by any reasonable person. A true patriot would be joining in that protest and working to change this reality so that, to paraphrase Martin Luther King, we can make good on the promises in our founding documents, that all men are created equal. Fake patriots — tribal nationalists — view any such criticism as hating America. The opposite is true. Some of us care enough about our country to demand that it do the right thing. The rest are just mindless cheerleaders for the status quo.

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