A new report found that minorities made up more than 90% of the pot possession arrests in New York City in the first six months of 2018. Ninety-percent of people who appeared in court on criminal charges were also people of color jailed for minor offenses, according to the data from nonprofit NYPD watchdog Police Reform Organizing Project. To put these numbers into perspective, the city’s population is nearly half white.
Following marijuana possession, the most common charges were driving without a license, 3rd-degree assault, shoplifting, and fare evasion.
“Despite the innocuous nature of most of the charges, and the nonexistent safety threat represented by most defendants, police had arrested all these individuals—cuffed and confined them, leaving most of them to sit in jail overnight,” the report says. “This type of policing—criminalizing activities that are victimless and considered harmless, and then disproportionately charging a single group as offenders—breeds cynicism, resentment, and resistance.”
Data from the American Civil Liberties Union shows that white people and minorities use cannabis at similar rates. The disproportionate incarceration of minorities in New York has become a hot-button issue in recent months. Former Sex and the City Star and New York gubernatorial candidate Cynthia Nixon has made it a central part of her platform, arguing that it’s a key reason the state should legalize recreational marijuana.
Speaking to the NY Daily News, a spokesperson responded to the recent report by saying: “The NYPD enforces the law fairly and equally, and works tirelessly every day to keep every resident and every neighborhood safe. The NYPD is also committed to building trust between police and the community, whether by dramatically reducing stop-and-frisk by more than 90%; by providing more than 8,000 officers with fair and impartial training; or by implementing a new neighborhood policing strategy that brings cops and community closer together through mutual respect and partnership.”
But plenty of people profiled in the report weren’t feeling the mutual respect. The report’s title, “That’s How They Get You,” is a direct quote from a young man PROP interviewed for an earlier series of vignettes about police mistrust.
“I’m half-Puerto Rican, and that’s how they get you,” he said. “Bike on the sidewalk, open alcohol container, things like that. I am scared of the police if I see one on the street. I’d rather spend a night with the Hell’s Angels on the Lower East Side than go into a police precinct to report anything.”
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio has responded to the criticism by recently announcing that the NYPD would no longer arrest people for smoking weed in public. Just earlier this month, a federal judge in Brooklyn also said he would no longer send people back to prison for smoking weed. It’s yet to be seen whether these policy changes will impact the city’s arrest and incarceration rates.