NYC Mayor de Blasio’s Reform Efforts Isn’t Enough to Stop the Increase of Marijuana Arrest Rate for Black People

A New York City councilman claims the police have no plans to change the severe racial disparity in the number of marijuana arrests made in the last quarter.

Citing data from the New York Police Department, Councilman Rory Lancman said that 92 percent of people arrested for possessing cannabis were Black or Hispanic, the New York Daily News reportedFriday, June 7.

Councilman Rory Lancman pointed out that disparities in arrest rates between whites and non-white people for possession of marijuana have been increasing over the past two years. (Photo: Getty Images)

The breakdown of the data states that among 606 arrests from January 2019 to March 2019, Black people were arrested the most often with the population making up 357, or 60 percent, of persons detained. Hispanic people comprised 201, or 33 percent, of the total arrests. Comparatively, 23 white people were arrested for holding weed, making up 4 percent of those arrested.

In a letter Lancman drafted to send to NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio, he said the 92 percent arrest rate of Black and Hispanic people for pot was an increase from 89 percent in 2018 and 86 percent more from the year before.

A report from March noted that despite decriminalization efforts, there are some exceptions. People who smoke in public and are on probation, parole or if they have committed a violent offense are still subject to arrest. Additionally, anyone believed to be a threat to public safety can also be apprehended. If someone with a warrant or without identification is caught smoking, then they’ll face arrest.

“If the pool of people who are not eligible for the more lenient treatment are more likely to be black or Hispanic, then the law is being enforced in a racist way,” Lancman told the NYDN at the time. “Those disparity numbers are going the wrong way.”

In the June note, Lancman accused the NYPD of not having any answers about how to solve the issue and he asks de Blasio if he has a solution.

“I’m writing to you directly to ask what your administration is doing to reduce this growing racial disparity in marijuana policing, because at a recent hearing Police Commissioner James O’Neill had no answer at all,” Lancman wrote in the memo obtained by the NYDN. “ I’m hoping that you do … Do you?”

Going head to head with O’Neill during a May 15 hearing, Lancman and the police commissioner verbally duked it out concerning the disparity. O’Neill stood firm on the department’s strategy, maintaining that the exceptions for arrests are a pivotal part of the police’s enforcement methods.

“We are doing the enforcement where the complaints are,” he explained.

Stating he was eager to collaborate with the NYPD to “find a way to decrease that disparity,” Lancman noted, “In nothing in your answer is there a recognition of the extraordinary disparity that exists. I don’t hear any plan or agenda for addressing that disparity. Will you consider changing the exceptions that exist to that policy?”

Atlanta Black Star has reached out to de Blasio’s office for comment on Lancman’s letter.

Meanwhile, the department issued a statement Friday noting that arrests for Black and Hispanic people in possession of pot has decreased. According to police, 5,524 less Black people and 4,427 less Hispanics have been arrested following reform, the Daily News reported, without specifying which time frames are being compared.

“The NYPD believes the current marijuana policy allows officers to do their jobs effectively and safely, and in a way that always promotes public safety and quality of life for all New Yorkers,” the department said in a statement initially issued by Sgt. Jessica McRorie in May. “The NYPD has dramatically reduced arrests and summonses for marijuana-related offenses. This new policy is an important step toward less intrusive enforcement while we continue to drive down crime to record lows and New York City remains the safest big city.”

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