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NYPD Pot Arrests Target Minorities

NYPD Pot Arrests Target Minorities
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Written by Alexander Zaitchik, The American Independent

Every morning, several sheets of paper are posted to the walls outside the arraignment rooms of New York City’s Borough Courts. They list the names of the accused scheduled to appear before the judge and the legal codes of their offenses. On most days and across the city’s five boroughs, these lists include multiple names next to the numbers 221.10. This is the legal code for the misdemeanor charge of possessing small amounts of marijuana “open to public view,” meaning the public display or public smoking of pot. In 2010, more than 50,000 New Yorkers were arrested for violating 221.10. The number represented 15 percent of all arrests made by the NYPD and allowed the city to keep its crown of Marijuana Arrest Capital of the World.

Not that there is a credible challenger for the dubious honor. The high number of 221.10 arrests puts New York in a league of its own and has become a lightning rod in the national debate over race and the war on drugs. New York’s marijuana arrests, says a growing chorus of critics, are a prime example of how the nation’s drug laws disproportionately impact black and Latino communities.

This is decreasingly a matter of accusation and anecdote. Hard data are emerging that confirm what marijuana reform advocates and public defenders have long maintained: That the NYPD’s stop-and-frisk policy in high-crime neighborhoods — sold to the public as a way to find illegal guns and reduce violent crime — has instead resulted in the racially uneven drug enforcement that seems to violate the spirit and the letter of New York law as well as the United States Constitution.

This is the story of 22-year-old Hakim R., a resident of the Brooklyn neighborhood of Crown Heights who I met one recent morning after his arraignment. He told me he had been walking to work near his home a little after 10 a.m. when two NYPD officers pulled up in a patrol car and stopped him.

“They just came up to me and started frisking me, making me take my shoes off, putting their hands in my pocket, before they even asked me my name [or] asked for ID,” says Hakim. “I was like, ‘You can’t do this, I know my rights.’”

According to Hakim, when the police found a five-dollar bag of marijuana in his back pocket, they charged him under 221.10 and brought him to the precinct station, where he was fingerprinted and locked in a cell for four hours. “I completely forgot I had the weed on me,” he says, shaking his head.

According to the law, it shouldn’t have mattered. New Yorkers have the right to forget about nickel bags in their pockets without risking jail time. But arrests for small amounts of concealed marijuana have grown so common in certain neighborhoods that the law de jure — only pot in plain view justifies arrest — is either not known, or understood not to matter.

The arrests often occur after police carry out a “Terry stop” — a stop-and-frisk procedure named for the 1968 Supreme Court case Terry v. Ohio. Police are allowed to stop and briefly detain a person if they have “reasonable suspicion” that criminal activity is taking place. If police further suspect the person is carrying a weapon, they may conduct a pat-down search, which can lead to the discovery of marijuana.

Critics argue that police in New York and elsewhere are abusing the law by searching suspects regardless of whether they actually believe the suspects may be armed or committing a crime.

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Photo from prensa420 via flickr

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11:56PM PST on Feb 24, 2013

Oh my! Here we go again!

1:20AM PST on Feb 4, 2013

Does this mean minorities have more respect for the users of pot. Ow.

6:29AM PDT on May 15, 2012


12:13AM PDT on May 15, 2012

What a waste of money NY!!

7:56PM PDT on May 14, 2012

@ Robert K.. “almost nobody dies or goes bankrupt as a result of drugs.” I guess you don’t follow the news. In Mexico the choice of “silver or lead” is commonly offered to officials and any who defy the drug cartels definitely die. The cartels are killing people a dozen at a time and the casualties are on a level with a full scale war. That isn’t a result of drug use? Yes, it is. As they say, “if Americans stop using drugs, we’ll stop producing and supplying them”.

6:05PM PDT on May 14, 2012

Liquor prohibition gave us the mafia. Marijuana prohibition gave us the cartels. The War on (some) Drugs gave us the growing, publicly traded private prison/Drug War complex that is destroying families and lives here and abroad. Before the War on Drugs, there were few drug related problems. We are paying trillions to protect the profits of Big Pharma, the drug cartels, the medical pot dispensaries, the judicial and enforcement branches of government and bringing corruption to our government and judicial system. It is time to end the War on Drugs and citizens, mostly people of color, that give America the dubious distinction of having the most people in prison. It should begin with marijuana legalization. Politicians need to stop scaring people about drugs for political purposes and treat drug addiction as the medical problem it is.

4:14PM PDT on May 14, 2012

The privatization of the US prison system continues to be a growth industry. It's continually looking for new customers and here is one of it's fertile sources. Don't expect to see the decriminalization of marijuana occur anytime soon for this reason and the fact that some powerful and influential sources are making a hell of a lot of money from illegal pot.

4:02PM PDT on May 14, 2012

Elaine A., are you sure you are NOT a closet NAZI, because I really think you are. Do you ever read the article or do you skim through and get your own story from it???

How much is enough to get TARGETED for you. The marijuana was in his POCKET which means they could not see the baggy. Just in case you have forgotten we are SUPPOSED to be protected from ILLEGAL search and seizer? I don’t care if he had a POUND on him if it could not been seen or he was not toking away on it they had NO right to stop and search him.

Dam* Elaine, you won’t even notice when you wake up in 1984 and we can all thank people just like YOU!!!

12:32PM PDT on May 14, 2012

"No Comment"...

12:02PM PDT on May 14, 2012

I would say it is racist targeting because if they were to ever do a "pot raid" in a white neighborhood, they wouldn't have enough jail space to hold them all. The TV show "Weeds" makes light of the fact that white-suburbia neighborhoods are full of marijuana. Granted, it's a TV show and should not be taken too serious, but its theme is not that far from the truth; and in fact nails it on many occasions.

@Steve N. - I know many Republican friends of mine that have taken pleasure in weed and also feel it should be legalized. It''s not a Liberal only agenda or one that can be stereotyped into any given group. People of all ages, race, religion, male and female use marijuana for any reasons they see fit. For these people, using marijuana is no more legally frightening than the stupid FBI warnings when playing a DVD; they just don't give a shit. In the meantime, the government will just continue to fight a war they cannot possibly ever win. Talk about a waste of taxpayers dollars.

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