Policing by skin color

A recent New York Times article gave the stark facts. Nearly 9 out of 10 people in New York City charged in marijuana arrests are Black or Latino. This is the case even though national surveys have shown that whites are the heaviest users of pot.

The top 10 precincts for marijuana arrests in the city averaged 2,150 arrests for every 100,000 residents. The population in those precincts is generally 90 percent or more nonwhite.

The 10 precincts with the lowest rates averaged 67 arrests per 100,000 residents. The population in most of those neighborhoods is 80 percent white.

The results are undoubtedly similar throughout the country.

An experience my daughter recently had shows how discriminatory drug enforcement takes place in other ways too.

She recently went to a Jack Johnson concert at Madison Square Garden in New York and, in her words, “there was a lot of maryjane in the air.” (I’ll admit I had to Google Johnson.) The police wouldn’t have had to stop and frisk; the smoking was done in clear view. But no one was being arrested or told, “Take your smokes elsewhere.”

If you can afford to pay big bucks for a concert ticket and sit in the air conditioned comfort of your Madison Square Garden seat, you don’t have to worry about adding possession of drugs to your resume.

It appears you also don’t have to worry about being ticketed for violating New York’s no-smoking.

This free pass at concerts is pretty much a fact throughout the country – although what is acceptable can change with the venue. I think many concertgoers expect it to be part of the package when they pay for their ticket.

Are New York City and other cities afraid their tax haul will be lower if concertgoers begin to be arrested? Do concert promoters worry tickets will be harder to sell if there are crackdowns? A majority white audience of some 20,000 – as the NYC Jack Johnson concert was – has a large economic pull.

Whatever the reason, it is shamefully wrong and discriminatory to stigmatize people of color for a so-called crime when the only real crime is being poor and non-white. In effect you are arrested for “smoking while black or brown.”

That arrest carries a high price that further stigmatizes its victims. It increases the burden one must bear in ways both big and small. It becomes even more difficult to find a job, further increases the cost of car insurance (because you’ll pay even more with that arrest on your record) and much more.

I’m not advocating legalization or criminalization; I’m advocating an end to racism in our criminal justice system.

In New York City the stop-and-frisk practices police used in minority neighborhoods were cited as the reason for more arrests. In one such neighborhood an analysis by The New York Times found police conducted, on average, one stop and frisk a year for every one of the 14,000 people who lived there.

Ninety-nine percent of the residents were not arrested or charged with any wrongdoing. However when you stop and search people in mass, you are going to get arrests. You would get even more in wealthy neighborhoods.

This is policing by skin color. That’s racism pure and simple.

Photo: PW



John Rummel
John Rummel

Activist John Rummel covers events in Michigan. It's not politics-only for John; he loves sports, the outdoors and a cold beer or two!