Pubdate: Tue, 04 Jun 2013
Source: Des Moines Register (IA)
Copyright: 2013 The Des Moines Register
Author: William Petroski
Referenced: The War on Marijuana in Black and White: Report


A black person in Iowa is more than eight times as likely to be 
arrested for marijuana possession than a white person, even though 
both use marijuana at about the same rate, according to a report 
issued Tuesday by the American Civil Liberties Union.

The study, based on data collected from the FBI and the Census 
Bureau, founds that Iowa has the largest racial disparity in the 
United States in comparing marijuana arrest rates between blacks and 
whites. Iowa is followed by Washington, D.C., Minnesota, Illinois, 
Wisconsin, Kentucky, and Pennsylvania.

The study also broke down data by county, with Dubuque County having 
the worst racial disparities in Iowa for marijuana arrests, followed 
by Woodbury County, Johnson County, Linn County, and Clinton County.

In Polk County, blacks are about five times as likely as whites to be 
arrested for marijuana possession, the report said.

"These are devastating numbers," said Randall Wilson, legal director 
for the ACLU of Iowa. He noted that Iowa criminal justice advocates 
have long pointed out racial disparities in arrest and incarceration 
rates of blacks in Iowa. About one-quarter of Iowa's prison 
population is black, even though blacks represent only 3.1 percent of 
the state's general population.

"Iowa has been a leading state among civil rights and should not rank 
as the worst in racial disparities in marijuana arrests," Wilson 
added. "We all need to take responsibility-whether as citizens, 
police on the streets, or administrators. We can all do something to 
change this culture if we truly care about justice and equal opportunity."

The study, titled, Marijuana in Black and White: Billions of Dollars 
Wasted on Racially Biased Arrests, recommends legalization of 
marijuana as the smartest and surest way to end racially biased 
enforcement of marijuana.

The researchers note that marijuana arrests now account for half of 
all drug arrests. Nationally, a black person was 3.7 times as likely 
to be arrested for marijuana possession than a white person, the 
study found. In in some individual counties nationally, blacks were 
more than 10, 15, and even 20 times as likely to be arrested.

Blacks make up 3.1 percent of Iowa's population, according to the 
Census Bureau. But in 2010, they were arrested at a rate 8.34 times 
higher than whites for marijuana possession, the ACLU said. That was 
a rate of 1,454 blacks arrested per 100,000 of the black general 
population, compared to 174 whites arrested per 100,0000 of the white 
general population.

Angela Onwuachi-Willig, a black woman who is a civil rights attorney 
and a professor at the University of Iowa Law School, said a 
combination of factors can probably be attributed to the disparity of 
marijuana arrest rates for blacks and whites in Iowa.

This can include explicit bias and implicit bias, she said, noting 
that many studies have demonstrated that when blacks and whites 
engage in the same behaviors that blacks are viewed more negatively. 
As a result, police in Iowa could be acting acting on unconscious 
triggers of stereotypes, treating black citizens differently than 
white citizens, she said.

Another factor is that black neighborhoods may be patrolled more 
heavily by police than white neighborhoods, Onwuachi-Willig said, 
which automatically puts blacks at more risk of arrest for engaging 
in the same behavior as whites. In additon, because Iowa has a 
relatively small population of minorities in Iowa, blacks tend to 
stand out more, whether consciously or unconsciously, she added.

One of the solutions is for additional training so that law 
enforcement officers are more aware of the role that unconscious bias 
can play, she said. Another is more equal policing of neighborhoods.

"There are are solutions that take a lot of work and a lot of effort. 
But it is worth it, of course, to have a fair and just society," 
Onwuachi-Willig said.

State Rep. Ako Abdul Samad, D-Des Moines, who is black, said he 
wasn't surprised at the ACLU study's findings. He believes the state 
needs to start taking issues regarding the incarceration of blacks in 
Iowa more seriously.

Abdul-Samad noted that Gov. Terry Branstad recently signed 
legislation that he vigorously fought which increases penalties for 
the crime of interference with official acts if an officer is injured 
as a result of the interference. A state analysis showed that blacks 
in Iowa make up 27.6 percent of convictions for interference with 
official acts, nearly 10 times the representation of blacks in Iowa's 
general population.

"We argued on the we argued the House floor that we have to start 
looking at what impact this has on ethnic groups in our state. But we 
were ignored and the legislation was passed anyway," Abdul-Samad said.

He added it's a contradiction that Forbes magazine rates Des Moines 
as the best city in the nation for young professionals, while the 
ACLU ranks Iowa as one of the worst for black people.

"If we are going to make Iowa a better place, this is something we 
have to look at," Abdul-Samad said.

Sen. Robert Hogg, D-Cedar Rapids, chairman of the Iowa Senate 
Judiciary Committee, said the report raises questions in his mind 
whether the correctional system is the best way to deal with illegal 
drug use. But Hogg said he does not support the legalization of 
marijuana, suggesting legalization would dramatically increase the 
use of marijuana.

Steve Lukan, the Branstad administration's drug policy coordinator, 
said legalizing marijuana would not make Iowa or a more productive 
state. "More drugs in society is not a good thing. I think that is 
really a false hope for many people," he added.

The ACLU said the research highlights the case of a Waterloo man, 
DeMarcus Sanders. Sanders, who was stopped by police for loudly 
playing music in his car. An officer searched his car and found a 
single marijuana seed. Sanders pleaded guilty and spent 30 days in 
jail, losing his job. He also automatically lost his driver's 
license. Sanders still owes the state more than $23,000 for jail room 
and board, court costs, and other fines - which is tough to repay 
after getting fired and having no driver's license. the ACLU said.

Sanders was stopped and arrested a second time for doing nothing more 
than jaywalking, ACLU officials said. The officer wanted to search 
him, he said.

"I told him, 'No, you cannot,'" Sanders in an ACLU news release. "'I 
haven't done anything. I'm not drunk. I'm not high. I'm not bothering 
anyone.'" He was arrested anyway, ACLU officials said, and police 
later found a small bag of pot on Sanders.

"I understand cops have to do their jobs. I'm not bashing cops," 
Sanders said. "[But] you're on me; that's profiling. You're racially 
profiling me."

The ACLU said its study is especially significant because it examines 
an area of the law which is violated by whites and blacks at roughly 
equal rates - dispelling the argument that blacks commit more of a 
particular crime and therefore are arrested at higher rates. The 
report cites the National Household Survey of Drug Abuse and Health 
that found in 2010 nationally 14 percent of blacks and 11.6 percent 
of whites reported using marijuana in the past year.

The report says that racial disparities regarding marijuana arrests 
cut across many states, regions and demographics, stating, "The 
racial disparities are as staggering in the Midwest as in the 
Northeast, in large counties as in small, on city streets as on 
country roads, in counties with high median family incomes as in 
counties with low median family incomes, and exist regardless of 
whether blacks make up 50 percent or 5 percent of the county's 
overall population. The racial disparities in marijuana arrest rates 
are ubiquitous; the difference can be found only in their degrees of severity."

The study also concluded that while there were pronounced racial 
disparities in marijuana arrests 10 years ago, those disparities have 
grown significantly worse.

"The war on marijuana has largely been a war on people of color," 
said Ezekiel Edwards, director of the ACLU's national Criminal Law 
Reform Project and one of the report's primary authors. "State and 
local governments have aggressively enforced marijuana laws 
selectively against black people and communities, needless ensnaring 
hundreds of thousands of people in the criminal justice system at 
tremendous human and financial cost."

Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller was out of the office on Tuesday and 
was not available for comment, a spokesman said.
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