Protesting Bloomberg's Racially Biased Marijuana Arrests Crusade

For immediate release: March 29, 2012 ~ Drug Policy Alliance | IJJRA | VOCAL-NY

Community Members March to Mayor Bloomberg’s House to Protest Out of Control Marijuana Arrest Crusade in NYC
Under Bloomberg, More Than 400,000 People Arrested on Low-Level Marijuana Charges in NYC, at a cost of over $600 Million; Most Are Black and Latino, Despite Whites Using Marijuana at Higher Rates
Illegal Searches and Bogus Misdemeanor Arrests Continue, Despite Order by Commissioner Kelly to Halt Unlawful Police Practices; Marijuana Arrests Are #1 Offense in NYC and Make up 15% of all Arrests

NEW YORK: Today, community members and New Yorkers for Health & Safety marched to Mayor Bloomberg’s house to demand an end to illegal, racially biased and costly marijuana arrests.  While Bloomberg proposes cuts to New York City public libraries, firehouses, and afterschool programs, he’s spending at least $75 million a year for these arrests.  In 2011, there were 50,684 marijuana possession arrests, the top arrest in New York City and second highest number of marijuana arrests in City history, despite a directive issued to police officers by Police Commissioner Ray Kelly last year, ordering them to end such arrests.

Protesters highlighted Mayor Bloomberg’s hypocrisy: last year, the mayor launched a new, $130 million campaign called Young Men’s Initiative (YMI) – “the nation’s boldest and most comprehensive effort to tackle the broad disparities slowing the advancement of black and Latino young men” – but he’s simultaneously wasting $75 million a year on arresting tens of thousands of young Black and Latino men for bogus low-level marijuana possession charges. The billionaire mayor, who in 2001 said that he smoked marijuana and “enjoyed it,” now presides over the largest initiative in the country to stop, question, frisk, illegally search and falsely arrest young men of color on bogus marijuana possession charges. NYPD has made marijuana possession arrests their number one priority, and in the decade since Michael Bloomberg became mayor, the NYPD has made 400,038 lowest level marijuana possession arrests at a cost of $600 million dollars to taxpayers.

“Mayor Bloomberg is talking out of both sides of his mouth when it comes to helping young Black and Latino men like me,” said Alfredo Carrasquillo, a community organizer for VOCAL-NY who has been targeted under stop-and-frisk practices, illegally searched and falsely arrested for marijuana possession. “The money for his Young Men’s Initiative goes to waste along with the taxpayer dollars he’s wasting on pursuing his marijuana arrests crusade in my community.”

Even though young whites use marijuana at higher rates, nearly 85 percent of the people arrested for marijuana possession are Black and Latino, and most are under 30 years old. A marijuana arrest is no small matter – most people are handcuffed, placed in a police car, taken to a police station, fingerprinted and photographed, held in jail for 24 hours or more, and then arraigned before a judge. The arrest creates a permanent criminal record that can easily be found on the internet by employers, landlords, schools, credit agencies, licensing boards and banks — the exact kind of criminal records that are recognized by the YMI as “slowing the advancement of black and Latino men.”

“Bloomberg is doing  more than wasting 75 million a year on MJ arrests, he is wasting the future our youth,” said Chino Hardin, lead know-your-rights trainer for the Institute for Juvenile Justice Reform and Alternatives.  “We don’t want kids using drugs so why not put money into real programs that will help them make better choices, not give forever lasting criminal records.”

“New York City is spending $75 million dollars a year to arrest and prosecutor mostly young people of color simply for possessing marijuana — which is not a crime in New York State.” said Harry Levine, Queens College Professor and founder of the Marijuana Arrest Research Project. “It is long past time for this outrage to stop.”

New York State decriminalized private possession of small amounts of marijuana in 1977, in order to preserve scarce police resources and prevent needless criminalization; marijuana in public view was made misdemeanor offense. But the NYPD has made marijuana possession arrests their number one priority. Research finds that most people arrested for marijuana possession did not have it in public view, but had a small amount in a pocket and were either tricked by the police to reveal it, or were illegally searched. These individuals are then falsely charged for possessing marijuana in public view, and arrested. In the last five years under Bloomberg, the NYPD made more marijuana arrests than in the twenty-four years under Mayors Giuliani, Dinkins and Koch combined.

Lawmakers in Albany have taken notice and are introduced bipartisan legislation to end the practice. Legislation championed by Assemblyman Hakeem Jeffries (D, WFP – Brooklyn) and Senator Mark Grisanti (R-Buffalo) would standardize penalties for marijuana possession in New York, aligning police practice with the original legislative intent. The bill, S.5187/A.7620, has numerous cosponsors from across New York. New York Council members Oliver Koppell, Melissa Mark-Viverito and dozens of their colleagues have also signed onto a Council resolution, 0986, that supports the legislation in Albany and calls for an end to the marijuana arrest crusade.

“The explosion of low level marijuana arrests in New York City is a tremendous waste of precious law enforcement resources and needlessly scars thousands of young lives,” said Assembly Member Hakeem Jeffries, sponsor of bipartisan reform legislation in Albany. “Our legislation is an additional step toward a more equitable criminal justice system that treats everyone the same, regardless of race or socioeconomic status.”

“Despite the Mayor’s rhetoric about the Young Men’s Initiative, his administration is cutting vital social services such as childcare, education, and after school programs. At the same time, the city continues to spend $75 million a year to arrest over 50,000 New Yorkers for small time marijuana possession, mostly young men of color,” said Council Member Melissa Mark-Viverito. “We should use the money being spent on small-time marijuana arrests to instead invest in education, healthcare, and other services to help young men. I call on the Mayor and the Police Commissioner to support the bipartisan legislation to decriminalize marijuana in public view. We should be focusing on helping young men of color escape poverty, not putting them into contact with our criminal justice system.”

“For a mayor who celebrates diversity as a key staple of the city, he sure has a horrible way of demonstrating his appreciation for certain communities in our City,” said Kassandra Frederique, policy coordinator at the  Drug Policy Alliance. “Black and Latino New Yorkers cannot walk down the street without fear of being stopped, frisked, illegally searched, and then falsely charged and arrested for something that was decriminalized over 30 years ago. This is costing us millions of dollars as taxpayers. It’s an insult, and must end now.”

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