Pubdate: Wed, 05 Jun 2013
Source: Chicago Tribune (IL)
Copyright: 2013 Chicago Tribune Company
Author: John Keilman


Report Says in Illinois, Blacks Nearly 8 Times More Likely to Be Arrested

The American Civil Liberties Union said Tuesday that Illinois has one 
of the worst racial disparities in the nation when it comes to 
marijuana possession arrests, with blacks nearly eight times more 
likely than whites to be arrested despite using pot at roughly the same rate.

The report, titled "The War on Marijuana in Black and White," found 
that blacks nationwide are nearly four times more likely than whites 
to be arrested for marijuana possession. One of the report's authors 
said that discrepancy illustrates the unfairness of the nation's drug policy.

"People who are targeted are disproportionately people of color," 
said Ezekiel Edwards, director of the ACLU's criminal law reform 
project. "To give white people in certain places a free ticket while 
blacks are getting saddled with criminal records and thrown in jail 
seems patently unfair."

The ACLU also found that Cook County piled up far more marijuana 
possession arrests in 2010 than any other county in America. Cook 
County tallied more than 33,000 pot arrests that year, with blacks, 
who account for 25 percent of the county's population, making up 
nearly 73 percent of those busted.

Officials with the Cook County state's attorney's office did not 
return calls seeking comment Tuesday. But Tracy Siska of the Chicago 
Justice Project, an advocacy group that seeks transparency in the 
criminal justice system, said the cause of the disparity is likely 
more complex than overt racism.

"It exists because police use low-level marijuana busts to get gang 
members and people they suspect of being related to gangs off the 
street," he said. "It's basically a policing tactic.

"They don't go looking for these types of busts in white, 
middle-class communities - in Lincoln Park, Roscoe Village, 
Wrigleyville - because those communities don't experience the 
street-level violence that police are most interested in trying to stop."

Still, he added, the high discrepancy in Illinois is cause for concern.

"We know that drug use is pretty evenly dispersed across race and 
ethnicity and social class," he said. "So you would think the police, 
if they were being completely just about their enforcement of laws, 
would have a more equal distribution of race among the people arrested."

Researchers have long shown that blacks and whites smoke pot at 
roughly equivalent rates. The most recent National Survey on Drug Use 
and Health reported that 14 percent of blacks used marijuana in the 
past year .versus 12 percent of whites.

Asked about the ACLU's report, the Chicago Police Department 
responded with this statement: "Chicago Police enforce our laws for 
the sole purpose of protecting public safety, regardless of anyone's 
race or creed."

Edwards said his research indicated that racial disparities in pot 
arrests exist almost everywhere in the nation, regardless of 
demographics. In Illinois, 63 of 102 counties have a disparity rate 
higher than the national average, in which blacks are 3.7 times more 
likely than whites to be busted for pot.

Overall, Illinois had the country's fourth-largest disparity, with 
blacks 7.6 times more likely than whites to be arrested for 
marijuana. Iowa was first, with blacks there 8.3 times more likely 
than whites to be arrested.

Edwards said the discrepancies have grown worse over the past decade, 
even as some states adopt more liberal marijuana laws and public 
sentiment toward the drug softens. (A Pew Research Center poll taken 
in March found that for the first time, a majority of Americans 
support legalizing pot.)

"Old habits die hard, and a lot of police departments are patrolling 
and operating the way they used to," Edwards said. "You're going to 
see disparities as long as we fight that war and fight it selectively."

Though Edwards said most marijuana possession arrests do not result 
in prison time, Kathleen KaneWillis of the Illinois Consortium on 
Drug Policy said they still can bring severe consequences.

"You can be denied housing," she said. "You can be denied employment. 
And if you're in school, if it were a felony conviction, you would be 
denied financial aid."
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom