When he was running for office last year, candidate Bill de Blasio warned of the “disastrous consequences” low-level marijuana arrests have for both the individuals caught with a small amount of pot, and their families. “These arrests limit one’s ability to qualify for student financial aid, and undermine one’s ability to stable housing and good jobs,” the Public Advocate’s campaign literature read. Even more troubling, it noted, was the fact that studies showed “a clear racial bias” in such arrests. As mayor, de Blasio swore he would order the NYPD to stop such arrests, but he hasn’t. Low-level pot arrests are actually on the rise in de Blasio’s New York.
A new report released on Monday by the Drug Policy Alliance and the Marijuana Arrest Research Project found low-level pot arrests increased between March and August this year, compared with the same period under Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
The increase was small, just 3 percent, but striking considering the fact that de Blasio made addressing these arrests a top priority during the campaign.
Not only have overall pot arrests increased under the de Blasio administration, the same troubling racial patterns persist: Black and Latino New Yorkers continue to be arrested for marijuana-related offenses at much high rates than white New Yorkers, despite the fact that both groups use marijuana at similar rates.
The striking disparity can be seen by contrasting the Upper East Side, which has one of the lowest marijuana arrest rates in the city (10 per 100,000 residents), with its neighbor directly to the north, East Harlem, which has one of the highest, 1,128 per 100,000 — 110 times higher than the Upper East Side. That’s a staggering difference — you might even call it “A Tale of Two Cities.”
The same pattern is visible across the board: Arrest levels are high in poor black and Latino neighborhoods and low in rich white neighborhoods.
The authors of the study found that race was more significant than income level, though. To demonstrate the role race plays, they offered the example of three neighborhoods (Flushing, Fresh Meadows, and St. Albans) with similar median incomes — $58,000 to $59,000 — but markedly different racial makeup. They discovered:
Flushing, with only 19% black and Latino residents, has a marijuana arrest rate of 89 per hundred thousand residents. Fresh Meadows is 32% blacks and Latinos and has a rate of 96 marijuana arrests. But the St. Albans neighborhood is 93% black and Latino residents and has a marijuana arrest rate of 396 — four times that of Flushing and over three times that of Fresh Meadows.
The same patterns bore out in comparisons of Crown Heights and Bensonhurst, as well as Central Harlem and Borough Park.
You can peruse the full report at DrugPolicy.org.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on October 21, 2014