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Cannabis Again Plays a Role in Latest Police Shooting

Bill Weinberg

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Cannabis again plays a key role in the latest police shooting of an African American citizen to spark outrage across the country. The prosecutor for Iowa’s Linn County on Dec. 8 announced that a white police officer will not be charged in the shooting that left an unarmed black motorist paralyzed and sparked protests in Cedar Rapids, the county seat.

The Nov. 1 incident began when Cedar Rapids police officer Lucas Jones stopped motorist Jerime Mitchell over a broken tail-light. A missing tail-light is an infraction punishable by a small fine, but Jones said he detected a “strong smell of marijuana” in the car, and ordered Mitchell to get out. Mitchell reportedly struggled as Jones attempted to place him in handcuffs.

Jones then released his K9 dog from his patrol car and sicced it on Mitchell. Desperately trying to get away from the dog, Mitchell succeeded in getting back into his own vehicle, prompting Jones to fire. Hit in the neck, Mitchell managed to drive a short distance, crashing into several vehicles before back-up arrived and apprehended him.

A search of Mitchell’s truck turned up a pound of cannabis, $1,500 in cash, and scales. Police say Mitchell’s cell phone also contained text messages indicating that he was dealing.

Using his nickname, Mitchell’s supporters have launched a “Justice for Danky” campaign, which finally succeeded in pressuring police to releasethe harrowing video of the shooting from the patrol car’s dash-cam. Micthell, 37, who will likely be paralyzed for life, told the Cedar Rapids Gazette that the authorities’ version of events is “unture,” and that he was attacked “without provocation.”

Cases in which traffic stops lead to pot arrests are pretty routine across the country, but only make national headlines when they escalate to a shooting. Georgia’s small-town Summerville News reported one such case this week. On Dec. 6, a Chattooga County deputy stopped a car after seeing the tail-light malfunctioning—and said he smelled marijuana. The owner of the vehicle, 22-year-old Velia Fantroy, was charged with possession of less than an ounce of cannabis.

The illegality of cannabis raises the stakes in every police interaction where the substance is on the scene, and increases the likelihood of escalation. When will it be generally recognized that legalization is not just an issue for white guys who want to get rich off dispensaries—but a literally life-and-death matter of basic human rights and racial justice?

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