In 1994, the first year of Rudolph Giuliani’s initial term as mayor of New York, 3,400 people were arrested for marijuana possession in the city’s five boroughs. By 2000, that number had swelled to 51,500. This period and the ensuing years, which have seen a continuation of this policy under Mayor Michael Bloomberg—39,400 people were arrested in New York for pot last year—has been officially dubbed the “Marijuana Arrest Crusade” by Harry G. Levine and Deborah Peterson Small in a thusly-named report, subtitled “Racial Bias and Police Policy in New York City 1997-2007.”
“Because of its large size and high rate of arrest,” Levine and Small write in the introduction to their report, “New York now arrests and jails more people for possessing marijuana than any other city in the United States, and more than any city in the world.”
On April 30, Levine and Small were joined by former and current police officials to discuss the report at the Association of the Bar of the City of New York on 44th St.
Clearly, Giuliani and Bloomberg are the main targets of this report, but John Eterno, a former NYPD captain also pinned blame on CompStat, which has been described as a “multilayered dynamic approach to crime reduction, quality of life improvement, and personnel and resource management.”
“It’s a numbers game,” Eterno charged. “Commanding officers have to show numbers. If you don’t, you’re in trouble.”
In other words, CompStat tracks NYPD arrests. The goal is to reduce crime by increasing arrests. And that’s exactly what has happened in New York over the last decade.
The report’s co-author Levine (he’s a sociology professor at Queens College) said the figures were “shocking to us.” He explained that the crusade began with Giuliani and his police commissioner Howard Safir (1996-2000), “but it doesn’t stop with [police commissioner] Bernard Kerik [2000-2001], Bloomberg and [police commissioner] Ray Kelly [2002-present]. Bloomberg inherited the problem, but he embraced it and Kelly made it his own.”
There have actually been more pot arrests in New York during Bloomberg’s six years in office (214,300) than during Guiliani’s last six years as mayor (188,800).
Even more alarming is the racial disparity in the arrest figures. Of the 353,000 people busted in New York for marijuana possession from 1997-2006, 52% were black, 31% Hispanic and just 15% white. “This is not about drugs, marijuana or crime,” explained co-author Smalls (his organization is Break the Chains). “This is about control and labeling people.”
Labeling people as criminals that is. The more arrests, the more people are in the NYPD system.
But Eterno asked, “Are we deterring people or creating criminals? You stigmatize people by arresting them. You make then more or less a criminal.” He contended that “if you ease up and let it alone this type of crime will go away.”
Another point made was that most of the arrests have been for marijuana being in public view, not for actual smoking. “Since 1977, possession of marijuana has not been a crime [in the State of New York],” Levine stated. “People are tricked and intimidated [by police] to take out their marijuana or consent to a search.”
The result of most of these arrests is a Desk Appearance Ticket, which requires fingerprinting, photos and a stay in jail for up to 24 hours. Bail is generally $100. However, if you have priors or warrants, you could be in bigger trouble – which of course is one of the goals of these arrests.
While Smalls called for New York Ciiy to abide by the state’s decrim law and stop arresting people for small amounts of marijuana, Eterno says it’s time that a Mayoral Commission investigate New York’s crusade against cannabis users.
Or as Levine simply stated: “An active citizenry pushing all the levers is what needs to happen.”
From CelebStoner, April 30
Further reading: “Will Pot Ever Be Legal in This Schizoid Country?” by Steve Wishnia, AlterNet, May 1