Are Black And Hispanic Men Being Targeted For Pot Possession In NYC?

By Victoria Kim 05/15/18

In recent years, black and Hispanic New Yorkers made up 87% of marijuana arrests.

man with handcuffed hands behind his head

Despite calls for the police to end stop-and-frisk—the practice of detaining and/or searching a person with no reasonable suspicion—and a push to reduce arrests for cannabis possession, people are still finding the NYPD’s policing of cannabis in the city to be problematic.

A new analysis by the New York Times concluded that despite the fact that the overall number of cannabis-related arrests has gone down, the people put in handcuffs remain the same—the majority are black and Hispanic men.

“There are many ways to be arrested on marijuana charges, but one pattern has remained true through years of piecemeal policy changes in New York: The primary targets are black and Hispanic people,” the newspaper reported.

The analysis—which involved interviews with defendants facing marijuana charges, lawyers, and police officers, and looked at police and neighborhood data—discovered that across New York City, black and Hispanic men were arrested on low-level marijuana charges at 8 and 5 times the rate, respectively, of Caucasian people over the last three years.

This trend persisted across neighborhoods despite the fact that white and black/Hispanic Americans use marijuana at roughly the same rate.

When the NYT compared neighborhoods with the same rates of marijuana-related complaints, police “almost always” arrested people at a higher rate in neighborhoods with more black residents.

For example, Canarsie (which is 85% black) and Greenpoint (4% black) called 311 and 911 to complain about marijuana at the same rate, yet Canarsie residents were arrested for marijuana possession at more than four times the rate of Greenpoint residents.

According to the NYT, this trend was consistent with neighborhoods in Queens and Manhattan as well.

The NYPD claimed to “enforce the law fairly and evenly,” explaining that people in black/Hispanic neighborhoods call 311 and 911 more often to complain about marijuana, hence the higher number of arrests.

This is backed by police data, the NYT noted, but does not explain why even in predominantly white NYC neighborhoods, black/Hispanic men made up the majority of marijuana arrests.

In some neighborhoods, the data showed that even if the volume of complaints was steady from year to year, arrest rates fluctuated. Based on this information, there does not seem to be a consistent policy regarding the policing of marijuana in the city.

Overall, marijuana arrests are down. Under Mayor Michael Bloomberg, annual arrests reached more than 50,000 in some years. Now, they average around 17,500 marijuana arrests per year.

Still, the proportion of black and Hispanic New Yorkers who are arrested for marijuana has remained “roughly the same for decades,” according to Harry G. Levine, a sociology professor at Queens College.

In recent years, black and Hispanic New Yorkers made up 87% of marijuana arrests.

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Victoria is interested in anything that has to do with how mind-altering substances impact society. Find Victoria on LinkedIn or Tumblr