Reclaiming Our Way promoting the well-being of African American children & families

14Jun/120

About Stop and Frisk Policy and Practice, Marijuana Arrests, and Racial Profiling in New York City

The Stop and Frisk policies of the New York Police Department have received increased attention in recent weeks.  From the New York Times, here's an overview of the controversy that's been receiving increased attention in New York City and around the world...

The term “stop and frisk’' is the shorthand for a police strategy in which officers seek to reduce crime in an area by stopping and searching people they consider suspicious. In New York City, the approach led to close to 700,000 stops in 2011 alone, and a rising debate.

Critics have argued that the police have unfairly targeted black and Hispanic young men, who have made up 85 percent of those stopped. The police department has strongly defended the tactic as helping to bring down crime, saying it is an effective way of getting illegal guns off the streets.

In May 2012, a federal judge said that the city’s own records showed that many of the stops did not meet the constitutional standards for searches. The law does not permit a search of pockets based simply on a police officer’s hunch or performance quota; an officer may pat someone down if there is reason to believe that a person is carrying an illegal weapon. To conduct a search of the pockets, or to order someone to empty their pockets, requires yet a higher standard involving probable cause that a weapon is present. The judge found that officers often relied on impermissibly vague grounds such as “furtive” movements.

To curb such arrests, Gov. Andrew Cuomo in June 2012 proposed changes to state law to decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana in public view, a step that was endorsed by Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg.

Administration officials said the governor would seek to downgrade the possession of 25 grams or less of marijuana in public view from a misdemeanor to a violation, with a maximum fine of $100 for first-time offenders.

Mr. Bloomberg, whose administration had previously defended low-level marijuana arrests as a way to deter more serious crime, said in a statement that the governor’s proposal “strikes the right balance” in part because it would still allow the police to arrest people who were smoking marijuana in public.

Mr. Bloomberg said that his administration would be scaling back the number of stops. As the number of stops steadily increased under Mr. Bloomberg, fewer of them yielded evidence of wrongdoing.

The mayor has noted that in September 2011, Mr. Kelly issued a memorandum to officers clarifying that they were not to arrest people who take small amounts of marijuana out of their pockets after being stopped by the police.

Critics of the Police Department’s marijuana-arrest policies have complained that Mr. Kelly’s memorandum has had little effect, citing data that showed only a modest decrease in low-level marijuana arrests after it was issued.

 

The increased attention to the city's controversial stop and frisk policy is closely tied to the revitalized efforts to amend New York State's severe drug sentencing laws.  Also from the New York Times (June 4, 2012)...

The New York Police Department, the mayor and the city’s top prosecutors on Monday endorsed a proposal to decriminalize the open possession of small amounts of marijuana, giving an unexpected lift to an effort by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo to cut down on the number of people arrested as a result of police stops.

Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, whose Police Department made about 50,000 arrests last year for low-level marijuana possession, said the governor’s proposal “strikes the right balance” in part because it would still allow the police to arrest people who smoke marijuana in public.

The marijuana arrests are a byproduct of the Police Department’s increasingly controversial stop-and-frisk practice. Mr. Bloomberg and police officials say the practice has made the city safer, but, because most of those stopped are black or Hispanic, the practice has been criticized as racially biased by advocates for minority communities.

 

From Lee Bailey's Electronic Urban Report (June 10, 2012)...

On the heels of the announcement by New York Governor Cuomo, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and NYPD Police Commissioner Ray Kelly of their support for ending the practice of arresting individuals for possessing small amounts of marijuana in public view, a major coalition of local and national organizations is launching a massive effort in the final weeks of the legislative session to win reform.

Today, the coalition, which includes ColorOfChange, released an online advocacy campaign featuring powerful video testimonials from people who have been illegally searched and falsely charged for marijuana possession in New York City. Through email and social media outreach, the campaign is expected to reach an audience of hundreds of thousands in New York and beyond. At the conclusion of the video will be a petition to members of the New York State Legislature – including state senators and Senate President Dean Skelos — demanding that they support bi-partisan legislation, S.5187 (Grisanti) / A.7620 (Jeffries), that would standardize penalties for marijuana possession, ending tens of thousands of racially biased and unlawful arrests for marijuana possession every year.

 

The video testimonials mentioned above can be found online at DrugPolicy.org.  One of the videos, shown just below, features Dr. Harry Levine, one of the country's leading researchers on marijuana arrests.  His first report, co-authored with Deborah Peterson Smalls, Marijuana Arrests Crusade: Racial Bias and Policy 1997-2007, sheds light on what have been concluded to be illegal and racist marijuana arrests. His second report, NYC Marijuana Arrest Crusade Continues, and third report, $75 Million a Year: The Costs of NYC Marijuana Possession Arrests, explain how policing practices exploit a "loophole" in the law.

 

More to come, and more perspectives to share, as this continues to unfold...

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