Pols, study say NYPD unfairly targets minority men with low-level arrests
Councilman Donovan Richards (D-Laurelton) and four Latino city lawmakers sent a letter to Mayor de Blasio and Police Commissioner Bill Bratton last week outlining their “deep concern” with the large number of low-level marijuana possession arrests that they said “unfairly” target black and Latino youths.
The letter came in response to a recent report from the Drug Policy Alliance, a New York-based advocacy group that promotes policy alternatives to the drug war. The report concluded that in the first eight months of the de Blasio administration, the Police Department exceeded the number of low-level marijuana arrests made during the same period last year, under the previous administration of Mayor Mike Bloomberg.
The report’s findings also show that 86 percent of those arrested were black or Latino, 10 percent were white and 4 percent were other ethnicities.
“We approach this issue not just as lawmakers, but also as young men of color whose lives and behavior are directly affected by the NYPD’s practices,” the lawmakers’ letter reads. “We are troubled not just by the overall number of arrests, but also by the racial disparities reflected in the arrests.”
Along with Richards, the letter was co-signed by Councilmen Antonio Reynoso (D-Brooklyn, Queens), Carlos Menchaca and Rafael Espinal, both Brooklyn Democrats, and Ritchie Torres (D-Bronx).
The freshmen lawmakers said they “respectfully” need information about the steps the administration is taking to decrease the number of low-level marijuana arrests. They said the mayor and police commissioner should “ensure that arrests are not being made in a racially discriminatory way.”
The Mayor’s Office didn’t respond to the Queens Chronicle’s repeated requests for comment.
State law says the possession of a small amount of marijuana is only a violation, not a crime, but it becomes a misdemeanor when it’s in public view.
“The NYPD’s practice of stopping individuals, asking them to empty their pockets, and arresting them for possession of marijuana in public view — a deceptive practice from the Bloomberg Administration’s stop-and-frisk-policy — continues under your leadership,” the councilmen wrote.
They said black and Latino youths are being targeted, even though “strong evidence” shows that white youths use marijuana at greater rates than blacks and Hispanics.
In Queens, according to the recent report, the 101st Precinct in Far Rockaway made the highest number of low-level pot arrest of 390, between January and August of this year. The 113th Precinct, which covers St. Albans, Springfield Gardens and South Jamaica, made 358 arrests.
Kassandra Frederique, the policy manager at the Drug Policy Alliance, said it’s “disappointing” that arrests have increased under de Blasio, because he promised to curtail the NYPD’s practice of making so many low-level marijuana arrests during his mayoral campaign.
“His administration is aware of our concerns,” Frederique said. “The disparities in arrests is because of the way policing is being done in communities of color.”
She said the arrests have consequences on youths, creating a barrier to employment, housing and federal financial aid opportunities for those who are in college.
“It makes it more likely for them to get caught up in the criminal justice system,” she added.
Earlier this year, Brooklyn District Attorney Kenneth Thompson said he will no longer prosecute most low-level marijuana arrest cases. Asked last week if he supports Thompson’s move, Queens District Attorney Richard Brown said in a statement, “We follow the law as written which, in most instances, results in the dismissal of cases involving mere possession of small amounts of marijuana — particularly involving first-time offenders.”
The report from the Drug Policy Alliance, released on Oct. 20, relied heavily on data from the New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services. It was authored by Harry Levine, a Queens College sociology professor and Loren Siegal, an attorney. Both are directors of the Marijuana Arrest Research Project, which studies race and police policy in large cities in the United States.