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Pot-Related Summonses on the Rise in NYC, Especially in Minority Neighborhoods

Maureen Meehan

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New York City’s posh Upper East Side and East Harlem are mere subway stops apart, but if you live in East Harlem and are black or Latino, you’re 112 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession, despite Mayor Bill de Blasio’s campaign promises to end discriminatory policing.

Are they smoking more pot than their Caucasian counterparts, one might ask? Nope. A 2011 National Survey found that Latino and African Americans are less likely to use marijuana than white people.

So what gives in neighborhoods like East New York, Brooklyn, population under 200,000, less than 10 percent white and 35 percent living below the poverty line? East New Yorkers have received the second-highest number of pot possession summonses in New York City.

The NYPD has issued more than 3,800 pot-related violations in New York City in just the first three months of this year, according to amNew York, putting the force on track to roundly exceed last year’s 13,377 summonses issued. Possessing up to 25 grams of marijuana in private is not a crime in New York State.

Race and class disparities in drug law enforcement extend across all of New York City, according to a report published by the Drug Policy Alliance that analyzed the cases of 15,324 people arrested for low-level pot possession between March-August of 2014.

The DPA study found that the rate of NYPD marijuana arrests in a certain neighborhood was determined more by race than by class. The rate of marijuana arrests in poorer neighborhoods – where most residents are black or Latino – was on average 12 times higher than in neighborhoods where residents tend to be affluent and white.

“This is a new form of stop and frisk that they do to be able to at least bring someone in to write down their quota at the end of the week. We have seen an increase in this, especially in the summertime,” Rev. Dr. Kevin McCall, a crisis counselor in Brooklyn and Harlem, told am NewYork.

Maureen Meehan is a New York-based writer, who has worked as a foreign correspondent for many years.

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