Five New York men have filed a federal lawsuit claiming that New York City police regularly profile and harass black and Latino people to create marijuana charges.
The men argue that has routinely happened to them while they were going about their day buying groceries, on lunch breaks and simply walking down the street jamming out to their headphones. Pot was found that wasn’t even worth the time to bring it before a judge, but the police trumped up the charges and called it public display.
The suit argues what many have known for years: a loophole in marijuana decriminalization laws in New York is overwhelmingly used to lock up minorities in New York City. See, possession of about an ounce is legal in the Big Apple punishable by a $100 fine. But public display is a misdemeanor charge with up to 90 days in jail and a $250 fine – and police regularly bust people for public display after forcing them (often illegally) to empty their pockets.
That meant a trip to the local station where they would have to wait as long as a day and a half to see a judge.
And they aren’t alone. More than 40,000 people were arrested for cannabis possession last year and the vast majority were black and Latino (80 percent). Statistics overwhelmingly show that if you’re black you are seen times more likely to be busted than your white friend who smokes just as much marijuana as you do. Latino’s are four times more likely to be busted than whites.
A big part of the problem is New York laws that allow cops to search people they think have committed (or are going to commit) a felony or misdemeanor for weapons. Statistics on that program have also shown that overwhelmingly blacks, Latinos and other minorities are stopped far more frequently than their white counterparts.
In February, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg (who has admitted to smoking and enjoying cannabis) announced the city police would no longer be arresting people and taking them to jail for the bullshit public display charge as long as there were no warrants and the person had an ID on them.
Yet, the city also defends the policies. John Feinblatt, an aide to the mayor, used some ass-backwards logic to justify the arrests to the New York Times: “Marijuana arrests — which rarely lead to jail — are concentrated in neighborhoods with the highest concentrations of violent crime because that’s where the police focus their attention in order to reduce victimization.”
Since marijuana possession of under an ounce isn’t a crime, all the police are doing is creating “crime” that they then say they are stopping.