Too Little, Too Late: Commissioner Kelly Tells NYPD to End Stop-and-Frisks That Led to Thousands of Bogus Marijuana Arrests
By Kristen Gwynne | Sourced from AlterNet September 23rd, 2011
After a decade of unjust marijuana arrests, Raymond Kelly has finally issued a memo to New York City police, ordering them to end the illegal stop-and-frisk procedures that resulted in the arrests of so many young black and Latino youths.
The memo said:
“Questions have been raised about the processing of certain marihuana arrests. At issue is whether the circumstances under which uniformed members of the service recover small amounts of marihuana … from subjects in a public place support the charge of Criminal Possession of Marihuana in the Fifth Degree.”
The stop-and-frisks that helped generate the astounding 536,000 marijuana arrests between 1979 and 2010 violate the intent of the law in two ways. First, stop-and-frisks are legal only to find and confiscate guns. Second, possession of small amounts of marijuana is decriminalized in New York.
But when officers sweep poor neighborhoods to stop-and-frisk colored youths, they often demand kids empty their pockets, or pull the contents out themselves. If weed had been inside, police arrest them for marijuana “in public view,” which is not decriminalized, and the consequences of which bar arrestees from receiving federal loans and housing, as well as finding careers. This is all despite the fact that the weed wasn’t “in public view” until the cops put it there. Kelly clarified the standards for this type of arrest in the memo.
The Drug Policy Alliance, VOCAL-NY, and The Institute for Juvenile Justice Reform led the fight to stop the racially biased, damaging arrests. According to data from the Drug Policy Alliance, marijuana arrests cost New York City $75 million a year. What’s worse, 86% of those arrested are blacks and Latinos, many of whom are from poor neighborhoods. National data, however, shows that whites use marijuana at much higher rates.
Gabriel Sayegh, New York State Director for the Drug Policy Alliance, spoke about the policy change:
“This represents a tremendous victory for the many New Yorkers who are fighting to end the NYPD’s notoriously wasteful, illegal and racially discriminatory marijuana arrest policies,” she said, “But, the devil remains in the details as to whether and how the NYPD implements this new directive. If followed, then the NYPD will at last comply with both the letter and spirit of the marijuana decriminalization law enacted in New York back in 1977.”
And while Kelly’s new order is a positive for kids who will be spared the stop-and-frisk misuse, it will not change the history – or future – of those who have already been damaged.
The Village Voice recently published an article that analyzed the issue in a larger frame. It examines how Mayor Bloomberg’s Young Men’s Initiative is a hand-out to the very people he pushes down: blacks and Latinos. Giving with one hand, taking with another, Bloomberg is using the Young Men’s Initiative to fix problems his own policies created. Read more about it here.