91.8% of the people arrested for marijuana possession and sale in the city of New York between January and March 2016 were people of colour, according to statistics from the New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services obtained by the Police Reform Organising Project (PROP).
PROP also found that 86.5% of New York Police Department (NYPD) misdemeanour arrests involved people of colour, up 2% from 2015.
Arrests for “small amounts” of marijuana were up a whopping 33.7% from last year.
Robert Gangi, PROP’s director, said in a press release that the statistics show that NYPD arrest practices are marked by “waste and racial bias,” and a clear indication that, despite the rhetoric in City Hall, marijuana infractions remain a major focus of the police.
“While Mayor de Blasio, NYPD Commissioner Bratton, and other city officials have made widely publicized pronouncements about reducing punitive sanctions for marijuana infractions, the data present a different story. Arrests for these activities are actually on the rise,” Gangi said.
The NYPD was not immediately available for comment.
The national conversation around marijuana legalization and decriminalization should have led to a precipitous drop in marijuana arrests in New York, according to Steve Zeidman, a law professor at City University of New York and a longtime police-reform advocate.
The fact that marijuana-related arrests have risen in New York despite changing public opinion — and that people of colour are grossly overrepresented in the arrest statistics — “should sound very loudly all kinds of alarm bells,” Zeidman said in an email to Business Insider.
This pattern of people of colour being disproportionately arrested for marijuana use may extend further than New York City.
In 2010, the white arrest rate for marijuana possession nationwide was 192 per 100,000 whites, while the black arrest rate was 716 per 100,000 blacks, according to a 2013 ACLU report.
The racial disparity in the arrest rate has increased over the last decade too. While the white arrest rate has stayed constant at 192 per 100,000 whites, the black arrest rate has risen from 537 per 100,000 in 2001 to 716 per 100,000 in 2010.
Marijuana use rates are more or less identical between whites and blacks, according to data from the National Household Survey on Drug Abuse and Health.
Zeidman offered some insight into what is behind the disparity.
“Think of it this way: Let’s say 50 cops are patrolling a Black neighbourhood (designated by the NYPD as “high-crime”) and 5 cops are patrolling a white neighbourhood. In which neighbourhood is a teenager smoking a joint more likely to be seen and arrested?” Zeidman said.
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