Minorities targeted for pot arrests: PROP

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Minorities targeted for pot arrests: PROP

Story by Gregg McQueen

"People of color are being unfairly targeted," said Bob Gangi.

“People of color are being unfairly targeted,”
said Bob Gangi.

New Yorkers of color are being targeted over whites for marijuana arrests, according to a police reform advocacy group.

Citing statistics from the state’s Division of Criminal Justice Services, the Police Reform Organizing Project (PROP) said that 93 percent of marijuana possession arrests in the first three months of this year involved blacks and Hispanics.

“These stats reflect an undeniable reality. People of color are being unfairly targeted by police when it comes to these arrests,” said PROP Director Robert Gangi. “No matter how much [Mayor Bill] de Blasio wants to spin it that the police target behavior and not people of color, this data indicates racist and discriminatory practices by the NYPD.”‎

Arrests for pot possession were the third most common type of offense in the first three months of the year. The NYPD made nearly 4,100 such arrests from January to March of 2018.

Gangi said that people of color are being singled out for marijuana collars, despite research showing that white people use and sell the drug in equal or greater proportions than African American and Latinos.

“There have been studies done in that regard,” he said. “It’s not like people of color are the ones using all the marijuana.”

Arrest data indicates a years-long trend of the NYPD targeting people of color for minor infractions, PROP said. So far in 2018, 87.5 percent of misdemeanor arrests have involved people of color, compared to 86.5 percent in the first three months of 2017 and 2016.

However, one minor infraction arrest category — subway fare evasion — has seen a significant drop. Data shows that fare evasion arrests are down 52 percent in the first three months of this year, compared to the same period for 2017.

“We believe that’s a function of a change in policy and practice at the NYPD,” said Gangi. “Clearly, the police have made a concerted effort to lighten up on fare-beating arrests. There’s no reason they can’t do the same for marijuana arrests.”

NYPD Commissioner James P. O'Neill.

NYPD Commissioner James P. O’Neill.

PROP has estimated that one misdemeanor arrest costs the city $1,750, which means the city is spending upwards of $707,000 per day to process the arrests, Gangi said.

He suggested that the NYPD’s crackdown on marijuana offenses began during the Bloomberg administration, under Police Commissioner Ray Kelly.

“I think that Kelly believed smoking marijuana is wrong, and that thinking hasn’t evolved in the most recent leadership of the NYPD,” Gangi remarked. “They want to keep their foot on the pedal.”

‎In response, the NYPD said the arrests PROP analyzed occurred in response to specific complaints about public pot smoking.

“The report fails to acknowledge ‎that a tremendous ‎number of quality of life‎ enforcement is in response to specific and repeated complaints from members of the public, often in high crime neighborhoods,” said Lt. John Grimpel, an NYPD spokesman, in an email. “Quality of life policing has proven itself as an effective law enforcement model throughout the U.S over the last 20+ years which has resulted in making New York City the safest big city in America.”

However, Gangi questioned that explanation, citing complaint data indicating that of the five neighborhoods with the most arrests in 2016, only one ranked in the top five for calls about marijuana.

“It’s funny that the NYPD would doubt our findings, because we’re literally reporting their own numbers,” said Gangi.

He called on high-profile individuals such as Public Advocate Letitia James and gubernatorial candidate Cynthia Nixon, who have both publicly supported legalization of marijuana, to focus on convincing Mayor de Blasio to direct the NYPD to effectively halt arrests for recreational use of the drug.

“They’ve said they support legalization, but that’s not taking a political risk,” Gangi said. “Taking a risk would be if they put pressure on de Blasio to decriminalize marijuana.”