Ending the Institutional Racism of NYC’s Marijuana Arrests

Over the past 15 years, New York City has become the marijuana arrest capital of the world due to a policing policy that functions to institutionalize racism. More than 84 percent of those arrested were people of color – even though young whites use marijuana at higher rates. Research by CUNY Professor Harry Levine finds a systematic, racial bias (pdf) to the NYPD’s approach to policing marijuana.

While possession of a small amount of marijuana (less than 25 grams) has been decriminalized in New York State since 1977, more than 50,000 people were arrested in New York City for “possessing or burning marijuana in public view” in 2011 (largely the result of the City’s controversial stop-and-frisk practices that recorded almost 700,000 stop-and-frisks last year alone).

A large majority of these arrests are the result of illegal searches, false charges, and entrapment. Several organizations in New York City such as the Drug Policy Alliance, the Institute for Juvenile Justice Reform and Alternatives (IJJRA) and VOCAL New York, are working to end these racially biased and illegal marijuana arrests. The main way these organizations are doing this now is through a piece of legislation currently in the NY State legislature.

Democrat Assemblyman Hakeem Jefferies and Republican State Senator Mark Grisanti have legislation that would clarify and to go back to the original intent of the 1977 law and make under 7/8 of an ounce an unarrestable offense. Since Jeffries will likely be elected to Congress in November, and the legislative session is almost over, this is the last chance to pass this bill. In this short (2:12) video, Assemblyman Hakeem Jefferies explains what’s behind this legislation:

Conservative media pundits like Bill O’Reilly argue that further decriminalizing marijuana will lead to an increase in street crime (as he did on air this morning on Fox & Friends or as ), but there’s no evidence for such a claim. In fact, a recent New York Times piece clarifies this by noting that crime has also dropped in jurisdictions that don’t use NYC’s aggressive, racist stop-and-frisk policing strategy.

If you’d like to take action to stop this form of institutional racism, you can sign this online petition.

The U.S. Today: Still Diversifying



The MSNBC website has a nice summary of the new census data a lot of folks are talking about, titled “Census: Minorities now surpass whites in US births.”

According to census bureau figures for 2011 the children born, for the first time, are majority not white:

Minorities made up roughly 2.02 million, or 50.4 percent of U.S. births in the 12-month period ending July 2011. That compares with 37 percent in 1990.

And even with some decrease in Latin American and Asian immigrants, because of the economic downturn in the U.S. and some improvements south of the U.S. border, the population of the U.S. is still becoming ever more diverse.

There was this interesting bit of data as well:

. .the nation’s minority population continues to rise, following a higher-than-expected Hispanic count in the 2010 census. Minorities increased 1.9 percent to 114.1 million, or 36.6 percent of the total U.S. population, lifted by prior waves of immigration that brought in young families and boosted the number of Hispanic women in their prime childbearing years. . . . 348 of the nation’s 3,143 counties, or 1 in 9, have minority populations across all age groups that total more than 50 percent.

Still, the growth rate fell for Latino and Asian American populations to just two percent last year,

.. roughly half the rates in 2000 and the lowest in more than a decade. . .. Of the 30 large metropolitan areas showing the fastest Hispanic growth in the previous decade, all showed slower growth in 2011 than in the peak Hispanic growth years of 2005-2006…

Over at the NY Times, Thomas Edsall, has some interesting comments on the political implications of these shifts, which I recommend to you. Here is a sample:

. . . it’s interesting that the two-party system has not imploded. In the face of sustained centrifugal upheaval — including a proliferation of religious affiliations, the enfranchisement of substantial minority populations, rising levels of economic inequality, and the belief among a plurality of voters… that our economic system (capitalism) and the religious identification of three-quarters of the electorate (Christianity) are not compatible — we still are a nation of Republicans and Democrats.

He makes some interesting points about some opinion poll findings on how people see the Christian religion and capitalism (as in tension, a real surprise there) and also wonders out loud about the future of US parties and especially the Republican party. Can it adapt in this changing demographic world that

threatens its ability to compete nationally? As presently constituted, the Republicans have become the party of the married white Christian past.

This issue and related issues are ones I have dealt with deeply and historically in context in my new book, White Party, White Government.

There are clearly many political and policy implications to these demographic changes. Given the explosion of anti-immigrant nativism in this country in recent years, one can wonder if the mostly white nativists will take these data to heart and cut back at least on their anti-immigrant screed. One also has to wonder if the declining immigration will have any effects on the anti-immigrant legislation passed in numerous states. Especially with the looming Supreme Court ruling that will come down on the Arizona anti-Latino-immigrant law that has been celebrated in some white conservative circles.

Yet, many of us find these changes exciting and healthy for a country that has long depended on a diverse immigration for its social and economic health.

Jewish and Latino Americans Meet in Indianapolis: A Preamble to a Coalition?



Dennis Sasso, an Indianapolis rabbi who was born and raised in Panama, published an article in the May 25th issue of the Indianapolis Star titled “Jewish, Latino communities share bond of diversity.”

Sasso discusses a recent meeting in Indianapolis attended by leaders of the Latino and Jewish communities. He points out the similarities between the two groups:

Both groups see themselves as diaspora communities. Both have histories of immigration, discrimination and negative stereotyping. Both place high value on family, education and religio-cultural traditions.

Moreover, Sasso adds, both groups have common interests. Latino leaders “expressed interest in the Jewish community’s successful system of communal organization and active engagement in the civic and political life,” while Jewish participants “learned of the diversity of the Latino populations in our state and their interest in issues that are at the core of the Jewish public agenda.”

It is important, Sasso went on, “for diverse constituencies to know one another, to help each other succeed and to advance a common good that transcends party and ethnic identity politics.”

It is gratifying to see Sasso, who refers to himself as “One who is both a Jew and a Latino.” participate in the promotion of ties between both groups.

I don’t know if this is the case, but it is possible that leaders in both communities see the need to join forces to combat the burgeoning intolerant, racist and regressive political forces that Mitt Romney’s campaign has galvanized.