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Serving People from Arrest to Reintegration

Marijuana Arrest Crusade: Racial Bias and Police Policy in New York City 1997-2007

  • Organization: N/A
  • Author: Harry G. Levine and Deborah Peterson Small
  • Document Type: Report
  • Date Created: Monday, May 12, 2008
  • Submitted: Monday, May 12, 2008
  • Attachment(s): LINK

From 1997 to 2006, the New York City Police Department arrested and jailed more than 353,000 people simply for possessing small amounts of marijuana. This was eleven times more marijuana arrests than in the previous decade, and ten times more than in the decade before that. All of these 353,000 people were charged with misdemeanors, the lowest level of criminal offense. Even so, nearly everybody was handcuffed, put in the back of a police car or van, and taken to the local police station where they were photographed and fingerprinted by the arresting officer. Most people were then incarcerated overnight in one of the city's large jails.

? Marijuana possession arrests in New York City are racially skewed. Blacks were 52% of the arrests, but only about 26% of the city's population. Hispanics were 31% of the arrests, but about 27% of the population. Non-Hispanic Whites were 15% of the arrests, but over 35% of New York's population.

? From 1997 to 2006, New York City arrested and jailed approximately 185,000 Blacks, 110,000 Latinos, but only 53,000 Whites for possessing small amounts of marijuana.

? U.S. Government surveys of high school seniors have consistently found that Whites use marijuana at higher rates than do Hispanics and Blacks. U.S. Government surveys of young adults 18 to 25 have also consistently found that young Whites use marijuana at higher rates than do young Hispanics and Blacks. Nonetheless, the NYPD arrests Whites for possessing marijuana at much lower rates than it arrests Hispanics or Blacks.

? In New York City, the marijuana arrest rate of Hispanics is nearly three times the arrest rate of Whites, and the marijuana arrest rate of Blacks is five times the arrest rate of Whites.

? The marijuana possession arrests are also skewed in terms of gender and age. Most people arrested were younger than 26; about 91% were men. For more than ten years, New York City has arrested on average nearly 100 people a day for possessing small amounts of marijuana, mostly young Black and Latino men.


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