NYC's New Reefer Madness

| Thu May 1, 2008 7:04 PM EDT

A new study shows that New York is targeting youth of color for marijuana possession. This offensive is also designed to build a Big Brother database (Think: Counterterrorism, with inner city youth as the terrorists and objects of legitimate fear.) If you weren't already terminally suspicious of society's need to criminalize black and brown youth, read on.

"Marijuana Arrest Crusade," a study by Queens College sociology professor Harry Levine and drug-law-reform activist Deborah Peterson Small paints an ugly and fascist picture of life in George Bush's wiretapping, profiling, presumed guilty-by-association-if-swarthy 2008. From the Village Voice:

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More people have already been locked up for misdemeanor marijuana possession during Bloomberg's [an admitted past and proud dope smoker] first six years in office—some 214,300—than during any other administration in city history, including the full eight years of former prosecutor Rudy Giuliani.

More people get arrested for misdemeanor pot possession in Bloomberg's New York—about 35,700 a year, or 97 per day—than in any other city in the U.S. and "almost certainly" the world, says the author of a new study. (For perspective, when Ray Kelly was police commissioner for the first time in 1993, there were 1,600 misdemeanor marijuana-possession arrests, a pretty typical year back then.)

Drug surveys routinely indicate that a higher percentage of whites smoke pot than blacks or Latinos, but Levine found that African-Americans have consistently accounted for about 52 percent of these low-level marijuana arrests over the past decade, even though they're only about 26 percent of the city's population. Latinos, at 27 percent of the total population, account for 31 percent of the arrests. Whites are 36 percent of the population but account for only 15 percent of pot arrests.

That racial breakdown mirrors another set of data that the NYPD has been reluctant to make public: the stop-and-frisk numbers. From 2004 through 2007, police made 1,692,488 stops—ostensibly for suspicious activity. Of those stopped, 51 percent were black, 29 percent Latino, and 10 percent white. A staggering 1,496,100—or 88 percent—of those stopped were never charged.

You have to read the entire alarming piece to understand how devious this plan is. Possession of less than 25 grams, which is what most here had, used to just get you a ticket. It was a non-criminal violation. But, the NYPD has upped its game since all those natural born criminals were 'getting away.' To charge these youths with marijuana "burning or open to public view," (a criminal misdemeanor), cops cruise the streets of Harlem stopping youths of color and intimidate or cajole them into emptying their pockets or backpacks, where the dope, clearly destined for personal use, usually is. The kids don't have to comply....but c'mon. Sean Bell, anyone? Once they produce the dope it's "open to public view." Now they're in the system even though they are by definition not guilty of what they'll be charged with; the dope wasn't in plain view til the cops took a chance on finding some by subjecting random kids of color to a profile-based stop-and-frisk. "Levine's study found that 60 percent of those arrested on misdemeanor pot charges since 1997 didn't have prior criminal records." Injustice corrected.

This ploy is just the gift that keeps on giving:

"Marijuana arrests are the best and easiest way currently available to acquire data on young people, especially black and Latino youth, who have not previously been entered into the criminal-justice databases," Levine testified last year at a legislative hearing on a proposal to expand the state's DNA database to include all those arrested for misdemeanors.

Levine argues that this costly enforcement strategy ultimately causes only more problems by "socializing" young blacks and Latinos to the jail culture and making a life of crime more likely, because many places where these young might otherwise find employment don't hire those with criminal records.

Presumably, it's mere efficiency that prevents the NYPD from moving their sweeps a few blocks south to the upper west side in the forlorn hope of finding dope in the pockets and backpacks of white kids (with all those lawyer parents). Just try entering some Columbia undergrad into the system and building a database on all those future congressmen and corporate titans.

Just how disadvantaged does America need communities of color to be?