NYPD Police Commissioner Calls for an End to Improper Marijuana Arrests
Posted by Laura Vladimirova | September 28 2011 | 4811 views | Comments ↓
A loophole in NYC's marijuana decriminalization law has meant tens of thousands of citizens—mostly black and Latino—are incarcerated for minor infractions.
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In New York City, possession of small amounts of marijuana—25 grams or less—has been decriminalized since the late '70s. Yet, last year alone, over 50,000 minor possessions arrests were made, the highest New York has ever seen.
A recent internal memo was published in which New York Police Department Commissioner Raymond Kelly addresses the excessive arrests. He acknowledges them as “improper. ” However, his decree to stop arrests of a decriminalized act is too little, too late for the people that have served time or are currently behind bars for cannabis.
The New York City Police department has been circumventing the law for decades. The 25 grams or less policy has a loophole; marijuana cannot be in public view. When police sweep neighborhoods for crime, they use another procedure called the stop-and-frisk to demand people empty their pockets or backpacks, thereby bringing marijuana directly into public view. If marijuana was found, even under the 25 grams maximum, police arrested the person on the spot.
If that sounds completely abhorrent, it gets worse. Seventy-five million New York dollars are spent annually on illicit marijuana arrests and jail terms.
Most disturbing of all is that under the mayoral leadership of Michael Bloomberg, there has been a deep racial disparity for those who have been stopped, frisked, and arrested for minor marijuana possession—86% were black or Latino.
In his memo, Commissioner Kelly writes, "Questions have been raised about the processing of certain marihuana arrests. At issue is whether the circumstances under which uniformed members of the service recover small amounts of marihuana...from subjects in a public place support the charge of Criminal Possession of Marihuana in the Fifth Degree."
Had the police followed the law rather than an illegal city-wide policy of coercion, people would have been issued a violation or a ticket, instead of a misdemeanor possession charge. Instead, these egregious arrests have tarnished the records of thousands of black and Latino men living underserved communities. The consequences for these men last a lifetime. With an arrest on their record, they are barred from receiving federal loans and will have difficulty finding jobs. Other consequences may include psychological hardships faced in prisons, disownment by family members, and a host of other long-term issues that come with being labeled a “criminal. ”
Kelly’s memo comes on the heels of a recently published article in The Village Voice that examines Mayor Bloomberg's Young Men's Initiative. In the middle of his third and perhaps final term in office, Bloomberg wants to make amends with the black and Latino men he has thrown in jail. His Young Men's Initiative is meant to repair the racial bias in New York City the very bias his police officers helped enforce.
City Council members and legislators in Albany have also introduced a bipartisan bill that would decriminalize small amounts of marijuana possession in public view as well.
The waiting game begins now to see whether or not police stick to Commissioner Kelly’s urging and more importantly, whether or not there will be consequences such as a class action suit or a civil rights investigation.
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Tuesday, 27 September 2011
Article by Laura Vladimirova, on Sep. 28th 2011