Congressman Hakeem Jeffries

Representing the 8th District of New York

NY1: Advocates Upset About High Arrest Numbers in Black, Latino Areas for Marijuana Possession

May 30, 2014
In The News

  A Brooklyn congressman says the mayor and police commissioner are coming up short, as there are complaints that people in black and Latino neighborhoods are continuing to be arrested in high numbers for low-level marijuana possession.

Rep. Hakeem Jeffries and community advocates say the New York City Police Department's promise to reduce low-level marijuana arrests has gone up in smoke.

"The new administration promised change, but instead, we got more of the same," Jeffries said.

The city said that's not true. In the first four months of this year, there were about 9,500 low-level arrests for marijuana, compared to a little more than 10,200 for the same period last year, a reduction of 7 percent. However, those same numbers show that marijuana arrests were up in March and April. It's a concern for advocates.

"The truth is that there's tens of thousands of people that are going to be arrested this year for it unless something changes," said Brian Root of Human Rights Watch.

Mayor Bill de Blasio believes the numbers will continue to decrease. He said officers have to use their discretion while looking for crime but should not be spending lots of time on low-level marijuana.

"Those were unproductive arrests, and that the real thing we're looking for is serious crime," the mayor said

Advocates said that sounds good, but they remain concerned that more than 85 percent of those arrested for marijuana are people of color.

"The overwhelming majority of these individuals were black and Latino, even though statistics clearly show that whites use marijuana in equal if not higher numbers," Jeffries said.

"We've talked to a lot of white marijuana consumers in this city who speak very openly about their marijuana use and that they use it publicly," said Gabriel Sayegh of the Drug Policy Alliance. "The difference here is that the police are not looking for white marijuana consumers."

Police Commissioner William Bratton argued that blacks and Latinos are not being targeted. He said laws and policies are currently being studied on all levels of government.

"There'll be continued focus on modification of some of the various laws as it relates to marijuana that would then bring about changes in policies and practices within law enforcement," Bratton said.

They're changes that these groups said should mean no more unnecessary arrests for low-level marijuana possession.

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