Normally, I’m not much for conspiracy theories. But you don’t have to wear a tin-foil hat to connect the dots implicit in the New York Civil Liberties Union report showing that blacks are disproportionately arrested for having marijuana, even though more whites use the drug.
Alarmed by New York City’s “stop and frisk” program that targets high crime – read “black” – neighborhoods, the NYCLU looked at federal crime data for 2010 across the state and found blacks 4.5 times more likely than whites to be arrested for marijuana possession.
It’s even worse here. In Erie County, blacks are 5.66 times more likely to get picked up, and in Niagara County, they are 7.56 times more likely.
This despite the fact that studies consistently show that blacks use marijuana at lower rates than whites. For instance, the federal government’s National Household Survey on Drug Abuse shows whites reporting more pot use than blacks in every survey from 2002-03 though 2010-11. Yet blacks more often get arrested, which is a crime in itself.
But the larger issue is that such arrests start a chain of events New York Law School’s Justice Action Center calls “collateral consequences.”
Those are the effects on housing, school and job prospects that hold back blacks and lock in place yawning gaps in income, wealth and education, even if there are no fingerprints on such policies perpetuating a two-tiered society.
Police, in fact, insist that race plays no role in arrests, pointing instead to economic conditions that breed crime.
But how does that play out? Blacks get arrested more often because they live in poor neighborhoods … which have more crime … which necessitates a higher police presence … which results in more arrests and convictions … which makes it harder to get an education or a job … which creates more poverty … which leads to more crime … which …
It’s a vicious cycle that proceeds on social autopilot. Perhaps no one sets out to target blacks; but the end result is the same as if they had.
“Consequences can be very severe and really life-altering,” said Donna Lieberman, NYCLU executive director.
For instance, she said, misdemeanor amounts of marijuana can get people barred from public housing and from receiving students loans. Legal immigrants can be deported with two such convictions. And even though discrimination because of a criminal conviction is generally supposed to be illegal, having that misdemeanor pot conviction can, in the real world, prevent someone from getting a job – meaning the blatant disparities in pot stops exacerbate the economic divide.
“It’s condemning people to go through life with incredible hurdles, in addition to the societal obstacles that exist to people who are born into poverty,” Lieberman said. “We’re creating a lopsided playing field for people of color. This is not some benign disparity.”
It’s a disparity whites, who use pot at higher rates than blacks, nevertheless don’t have to contend with.
One answer is the Assembly bill closing the loophole that allows criminal charges for having a small amount of marijuana “in public view.” Why is it “in public view”? Because cops can order the person to empty his pockets.
That would be one key in breaking the cycle of disparities – a cycle that leaves some wondering if there really is a conspiracy against them.