According to a recently released report, Black and Latino New Yorkers made up 86 percent of the 60,000 marijuana arrests made between 2014 and 2016, whereas white New Yorkers and others made up just 14 percent. Blacks and Latinos make up 25 percent and 27 percent of the city’s population, respectively, and whites make up 44 percent of the city’s population, according to 2010 U.S. Census data.
The report, titled “Unjust and Unconstitutional” and created by the Marijuana Arrest Research Project, compares the disproportion in arrests to conditions under Jim Crow laws and frequently cites official statistics to back up its claims.
By using national statistics from 14 annual government studies, the study showed how, between 2002 and 2015, young whites (aged 18-25) used marijuana more frequently than Blacks and Latinos of the same age group. More whites were found to have used marijuana in their lifetime at higher rates and, from 2002 to 2010, were reported to have used marijuana at higher rates in the past year than Blacks and Latinos, according to the data. However, from 2011 to 2015, whites and Blacks used marijuana in the past year at almost similar rates, with Latinos lagging behind both groups in that category.
“There is no evidence or reason to think that these basic marijuana use patterns by race and ethnicity are any different in New York State or City,” the report said of the statistics.
The report also showed how in 2016 there was still a disparity in arrests between Blacks and Latinos and whites and other races (85 percent versus 15 percent), despite Mayor Bill de Blasio’s 2013 campaign promises of fair policing.
However, according to official statistics cited in the report, there have been significantly fewer marijuana arrests under de Blasio than under Bloomberg, with 18,121 arrests made in 2016 versus 32,228 and 51,051 arrests made in 2006 and 2011, respectively.
“Numbers don’t lie,” said Kassandra Frederique, the New York State director of Drug Policy Alliance, a drug policy reform group that backed the report. “Sixty-thousand marijuana possession arrests, 86 percent of them of Black and Latino New Yorkers, is a far cry from the mayor’s pledge to rein in the NYPD’s targeting of people of color.”
Frederique said in the report, “This report shows that whether people of color are in predominantly Black or Latino neighborhoods or in neighborhoods that are predominantly white, they are still targeted by the NYPD for marijuana misdemeanor enforcement.”
For example, according to the study, in Greenwich Village, a neighborhood that is 97 percent white, 69 percent of those arrested for marijuana possession were Blacks and Latinos, and in the SoHo-Tribeca-Wall Street area, they made up 73 percent of the arrests. Even in the areas that attract tourists, such as Chinatown and Little Italy, Blacks and Latinos made up 66 percent of marijuana possession arrests.
The report also claimed that the 30th Precinct of West Harlem had “strikingly more marijuana possession arrests” than any other precinct in the city, with 94 percent of those arrested being Black and Latino. According to census data, the neighborhood is 23 percent white, 24 percent Black and 42 percent of residents are of Hispanic origin. Forty-four percent of those arrested had never been arrested for a crime before and 76 percent had never been convicted of any misdemeanors.
“There is absolutely no evidence or reason to think that people in West Harlem carry marijuana or discreetly smoke it on residential side streets more than in other residential neighborhoods,” said the report.
Frederique said, “Decades of data show that as long as the NYPD is allowed to make these arrests, racial disparities will remain.”
She also called for an end to “marijuana prohibition” and pointed out how several states have benefited from marijuana legalization, stating that legalization has resulted in lower crime rates.
The report also claimed that many of those who are arrested for marijuana possession are young people who are “ordinary high school and college students and young workers, the latter sometimes building families.”
“They are not career criminals,” read the report. “In 2016, 37 percent of the people arrested for marijuana possession had never been arrested before for anything, and 76 percent had never been convicted of even a single misdemeanor.”
However, the NYPD strongly denied allegations of racism and tried to explain why the racial disparity in marijuana arrests exists.
“Really?” said John Grimpel, an NYPD representative. “The NYPD are racists? Give me a break.” Saying that those behind the report have “zero evidence to support this claim,” Grimpel stated that if such a racist “conspiracy” were to exist, then it would have to involve the whole police department and the mayor himself. “That’s the definition of insanity,” Grimpel told the Amsterdam News. “There is not one piece of evidence that supports this frivolous claim.”
When addressing the racial disparity in marijuana arrests, Grimpel showed two “nearly identical” heat maps of drug complaints and misdemeanor drug arrests made in 2014.
“Where this department makes arrests for drugs is nearly identical to where we receive drug complaints,” Grimpel said. “That is to say, those who call 911 or 311 and ask for a police response, get a police response. We respond to calls for service and help the community where they are demanding it.”
He also showed a 2014 NYPD analysis that showed that the racial breakdown between proactive arrests and victim-driven arrests were almost the same.
Grimpel mentioned how marijuana arrests have been down 36.8 percent (down 11,317) since 2013 and pointed out the city’s record lows in homicides, shootings and crime in general. He also explicitly stated that the department is against marijuana legalization.
A mayoral representative gave a similar explanation and also mentioned how marijuana arrests were down significantly (approximately 37 percent). “This administration has led a dramatic shift away from unnecessary arrests for low-level marijuana offenses in favor of summonses,” said Austin Finan in an email. “The NYPD responds to quality of life offenses where and when they are observed, many of which are reported by members of the public.”
Finan also said that the report failed to “note that where the NYPD responds to community complaints correlates directly with where police officers make proactive arrests.”
“The problem areas are the problems areas because that’s where we see the most illegally activity, not because those areas are being over-policed or harassed,” Finan continued. “And when I say ‘where we see the most illegal activity,’ I mean both members of the public (who play a big part in the enforcement of quality of life policing) and police officers themselves.”