Making Justice in New York City Just
The NYPD is arresting more than 35,000 New Yorkers a year on marijuana charges, a remarkably aggressive arrest policy that began during the Giuliani years and has carried on full throttle through the seven years of the Bloomberg administration. And young men of color are unfairly bearing the brunt of this ill-conceived crackdown.
These shockingly high arrest rates offer no demonstrable reduction in serious crime, but they do have an impact on the everyday lives of New Yorkers.
The racial bias of the hostile arrest policy mapped out in Marijuana Arrest Crusade: Racial Bias and Police Policy in NYC is stunning: Blacks are five times more likely to be arrested, and Latinos are three times more likely to be arrested for marijuana than whites. Though men and women use marijuana in roughly the same proportions, men account for more than 90 percent of the arrests in New York City.
As we grapple with the complex racial web of the Sean Bell case, it’s important that we take a step back and look at the bigger picture: The NYPD’s marijuana arrest practices are not an isolated problem. The NYPD routinely targets young men based on their skin color and where they live.
The marijuana arrests, which cost taxpayers up to $90 million a year, are indicative of the NYPD’s “broken windows” approach to law enforcement, in which police focus on minor offenses as a method of reducing overall crime. This approach, also called quality of life policing, has resulted in a dramatic spike in stop-and-frisk encounters between police and city residents.
In 2007, the NYPD stopped, searched or interrogated nearly half a million New Yorkers – about 1,300 people every day. Eighty-eight percent were found completely innocent of any wrongdoing and released with a charge or even a ticket. The racial disparity in these stop-and-frisk encounters is almost identical to the disparity in marijuana arrests: Though blacks make up only a quarter of the city’s population, more than half of those stopped were black. Another 30 percent were Latino.
Similarly, according to an investigation by the Daily News, though blacks and Latinos account for fewer than half of subway riders, 90 percent of the citizens stopped and questioned on the subway are black or Latino.
Clearly something is wrong with how policing is conducted in our city. Laws are being enforced selectively, and there are devastating consequences for the hundreds of thousands of black and brown New Yorkers who are unfortunate enough to get caught up by the NYPD’s racially skewed street tactics.
New Yorkers – overwhelmingly young black and Latino men – are being pushed into the prison pipeline. Walk into any high school classroom in Brooklyn or the Bronx and ask who’s been stopped by the police and it’s a sea of hands. The racial police tactics that target these kids do not create safer streets. Instead, they foster distrust between the police and the community, and strip hundreds of thousands of young New Yorkers of their dignity.
Beyond the countless personal tragedies this creates, our society as a whole pays a price, too. For each stop-and-frisk, for each trumped-up marijuana arrest, the NYPD’s vast database of black and Latino New Yorkers’ personal information expands.
Sadly, even today we do not know the full extent of New York’s two-tiered justice system. The NYPD continues to stonewall advocates, policy makers and even the City Council from discovering the breadth of the racial disparities in their stops and arrests in New York City. The New York Civil Liberties Union has even had to sue for access to the stop-and-frisk database, and still the city insists on hiding the record of its racial profiling.
Until the NYPD commits to an open and honest dialogue about these issues, we cannot know for certain just how deep these problems go. It’s time for the city to stop giving the police the benefit of the doubt and figure out what’s really happening here.
This report cries out for serious review by the City Council, by the State Legislature, by the Attorney General and by the Distract Attorney’s office in every county in the state: It is time that we demand an explanation from Mayor Bloomberg and an end to these racially biased street tactics.
Only when we do will justice in New York be truly just.