Saturday, November 2, 2013

Egregiously Racist: Pot Arrests in Kentucky

African-Americans compost all of seven percent of the population in Kentucky. That police arrest them for pot possession at six times the rate that they arrest whites - despite equal rates of pot use - is outrageous, unacceptable and destructive.

“Whites Smoke Pot, but Blacks Are Arrested.” That was the headline of a column by Jim Dwyer, the great Metro desk reporter for The New York Times, in December 2009. Although Dwyer was writing about New York City, he summed up perfectly two central and enduring facts about marijuana use and arrests across the country: whites and blacks use marijuana equally, but the police do not arrest them equally. A third important fact: the vast majority (76 percent) of those arrested and charged with the crime of marijuana possession are young people in their teens and 20s.

Over the last fifteen years, police departments in the United States made 10 million arrests for marijuana possession—an average of almost 700,000 arrests a year. Police arrest blacks for marijuana possession at higher rates than whites in every state and nearly every city and county—as FBI Uniform Crime Reports and state databases indisputably show. States with the largest racial disparities arrest blacks at six times the rate of whites. This list includes Alabama, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Minnesota, Pennsylvania, Nebraska, Nevada, New York and Wisconsin.


The essential study of these possession arrests and their pervasive racial bias is The War on Marijuana in Black and White, an extraordinary book-length report released by the ACLU earlier this year. It found that police arrest blacks for marijuana possession at higher rates than whites in poor, middle-class and wealthy communities (with richer counties showing the greatest bias). The glaring racial disparities in marijuana arrests are “as staggering in the Midwest as in the Northeast, in large counties as in small, on city streets as on country roads…. They exist regardless of whether blacks make up 50% or 5% of a county’s overall population.”

Young whites (age 18 to 25), however, use marijuana more than young blacks, and government studies comparing marijuana use among whites and blacks of all ages have found that both groups use it at a similar rate.

Racially biased marijuana enforcement stretches far beyond New York City—and its pernicious effects extend far beyond the degrading experience of being arrested and jailed. Most serious are the lifelong criminal records produced by a single arrest. Twenty years ago, misdemeanor arrest records were papers stored in dusty file cabinets. Now they are computerized and instantly available for $20 or less from commercial database firms—and easily found by a Google search for the phrase “criminal records.” (Try it yourself.) Employers, landlords, schools, banks and credit card companies rule out applicants on the basis of these now universally available records, which have been aptly described as a “scarlet letter” and a “new Jim Crow.” The substantial damage caused by criminal records from the millions of marijuana arrests has also been willfully disregarded by top officials almost everywhere, including in Congress and the White House.

Perhaps surprisingly, police departments, prosecutors and elected officials rarely discuss their marijuana arrests. They don’t take credit for—or try to justify—arresting and jailing people in record-breaking numbers for possession. In fact, they usually seek to keep marijuana arrests out of the public eye.

This makes it difficult for many white Americans to believe that so many people are being arrested for possessing small amounts of marijuana. The news media don’t report on these cases; nor are white Americans likely to personally know anyone who has been arrested (or whose children have been arrested) for marijuana possession. To an extraordinary extent, middle-class and especially upper-middle-class and wealthy white Americans have been shielded from information about—and remain unaffected by—the policing of marijuana possession. The near-invisibility of these arrests has also hidden the strong support for them by police departments and prosecutors.

With this federal support and encouragement, arrests for marijuana possession climbed from a crack-era low of 260,000 in 1990, to 500,000 in 1995, to 640,000 in 2000, to 690,000 in 2005, to 750,000 in 2010. The ACLU calculates that these arrests have cost taxpayers at least $3.6 billion a year. And there is absolutely no evidence that they reduce serious or violent crime—or even drug use.

So the question again becomes: Why? Why have these millions of arrests happened? Why is it so hard to stop them? While federal funding and drug war propaganda have helped drive marijuana arrests, police and sheriffs’ departments have had their own reasons to embrace and fiercely defend the practice. Central to understanding the national marijuana arrest crusade is the fact that significant constituencies within police departments benefit from marijuana arrests, find them useful for internal departmental purposes, and want them to continue.

1 comment:

Prup (aka Jim Benton) said...

The absurdity of this is magnified by the recent Gallup poll that showed not merely a majority for legalization -- full legalization, not just 'medical' -- but the figures were 58-39%. In fact, at a time when the style of tie our Attorney General chose that morning or the way he tied it could be spun by Conservative 'mendia' -- a 'portmanteau word' for 'mendacious media' -- into a world-shaking scandal, it is interesting that the only thing he has done that got little or no criticism was his announcement he wouldn't pursue Colorado or Washington recreational use if it were sufficiently regulated.

In fact, it is probably a rare case where it is elected Democrats who are 'behind the curve.' I'd love to see what the breakdown is in cities with Democratic Mayors. There are a lot of Democrats with their heads firmly locked in 1973-7 who are still afraid of 'soft on crime and drugs' charges, still afraid of the word 'liberal' still expecting Richard Nixon to resurrect himself and run in 2016.

It is much like SSM was even as recently as the beginning of 2009. I don't remember any Democratic Member of Congress unequivocally supporting SSM before Kirsten Gillibrand was appointed and announced her support. (She's still my choice for 2016, though she says she won't run if Hilary does.)

Until then, none of the liberal giants, not Schumer, not Kennedy or Kerry, certainly not our President, were willing to come out for anything but 'civil unions and gradualism.'

I wonder what would happen if McConnell's Democratic opponent came out for full legalization. After all, Lord Randall My Son could always find one of his father's speeches on legalization to plagiarize, and even he is smart enough to know how much of Daddy's initial appeal was to Libertarian pot-smokers.

Would the Turtle's TP challenger squeeze McConnell in the middle? Whatever, given the cross-pull of the hemp interests and the small group of Drug Warriors that stopped the hemp bill early this year, it might stir things up a bit.