Even though marijuana is slowly being decriminalized around the country, in New York City, it’s still illegal and people are still getting arrested and booked by the dozen. And more often than not, the people getting locked up tend to be Black and brown.
The New York Times has found that while there have been changes in policy on weed, the easiest way to be arrested for marijuana possession is to be either Black or Latino. While this may not be shocking to generations of black and brown people, the number found by The Times bear out a stark reality.
“Across the city, black people were arrested on low-level marijuana charges at eight times the rate of white, non-Hispanic people over the last three years,” the newspaper found. “Hispanic people were arrested at five times the rate of white people.”
It is especially glaring when you look at how the arrest rates for marijuana possession differs depending on the section of New York City. In Queens, the marijuana arrest rate is more than 10 times as high in the precinct covering Queens Village as it is in precinct that serves Forest Hills. Queens Village just over half black, while Forest Hills has a tiny portion of black residents.
In Manhattan, Black people were arrested at 15 times the rate of white people. In Brooklyn, officers in Canarsie, which is 85 percent Black, arrested people at a rate more than four times as high as in the precinct that includes Greenpoint—4 percent Black—despite residents calling to complain about marijuana at the same rate, police data show.
Black neighborhoods traditionally have more officers, even as crime in New York City has gone down. What makes the marijuana arrests and disparities so troubling is that police are legally able to stop and search a person spotted smoking marijuana and check for open warrants, which is speculated to be the real reason for these arrests.
“What you have is people smoking weed in the same places in any neighborhood in the city,” said Scott Levy, a special counsel to the criminal defense practice at the Bronx Defenders, said. “It’s just those neighborhoods are patrolled very, very differently. And the people in those neighborhoods are seen very differently by the police.”