Pubdate: Tue, 04 Jun 2013
Source: Star-Ledger (Newark, NJ)
Copyright: 2013 Newark Morning Ledger Co
Authors: Seth Augenstein and James Queally


ACLU finds blacks in New Jersey arrested at 3 times the rate of whites

Black people in the U.S. are nearly four times more likely to be
arrested for marijuana possession than white people - despite
comparable usage rates, according to an American Civil Liberties Union
report released today.Alan Berner/Seattle Times

Blacks are nearly three times more likely to be arrested for marijuana
possession than whites in New Jersey, and roughly four times as likely
nationwide, according to a report released today by the American Civil
Liberties Union that showed a deep racial divide in arrests in several
counties throughout the state.

While the two races use marijuana at roughly the same rate, the report
said, blacks were up to 30 times more likely to be arrested in some
parts of the country. In two Alabama counties, for example, 100
percent of those arrested for marijuana possession in 2010 were black,
the report said.

Nationwide, blacks were arrested at a rate of 716 per 100,000 in 2010
- - the most recent year studied - up from 537 in 2001, according to the
report. Whites were arrested at a rate of 192 per 100,000 in 2010,
nearly the same as in 2001. The report also said marijuana arrests
accounted for more than half of all drug arrests in the country, and
roughly 43 percent in New Jersey.

The report was compiled using data from FBI's Uniform Crime Reports
and the U.S. Census. It does not specify how police came to make the
arrests or if the arrests were made in conjunction with other crimes.
However, the ACLU said the arrests were not connected to violent crime.

Alexander Shalom, policy counsel for the state chapter of the ACLU,
said the racial divide could be deeper if adjusted for the Hispanic
population, which is counted as white in FBI reports.

Still, the data is clear evidence that police across the country
unfairly target minorities in order to pump up arrest totals,
according to one of the report's authors.

"The war on marijuana has disproportionately been a war on people of
color," said Ezekiel Edwards, director of the ACLU's Criminal Law
Reform Project.

According the report, blacks in New Jersey were 2.8 times more likely
to be arrested for marijuana possession than whites, below the
national average of 3.73.

Several counties reported deep disparities in arrest

In Hunterdon County, where more than 90 percent of the population is
white, blacks were five times as likely to be arrested for marijuana
possession, the report said. Five other counties - Ocean, Monmouth,
Mercer, Warren and Salem counties - had disparities higher than the
national average, the report said.

Law enforcement officials were quick to note the limitations of the

Toms River Police Chief Michael Mastronardy said it would be difficult
to determine racism as a motive for the disparity without knowing how
police came to make those arrests. Marijuana arrests are often
secondary to motor vehicle stops or domestic disturbances, situations
in which officers are dispatched without knowing the race of the
people involved.

"If you're stopping somebody at night, you don't know (the race)," he
said, adding the same is true " if you're called to a disturbance and
you start running warrants."

John Kuczynski, chief of detectives for the Hunterdon County
Prosecutor's Office, shot down any suggestion police in his county
were making arrests based on race. He said the bulk of marijuana
arrests in the county are the result of motor-vehicle stops, but added
that he is willing to discuss the report's findings with the ACLU.

"It's not based upon race," he said. "It's based upon offense whoever
is trafficking."

The state Attorney General's Office declined to comment. Calls to law
enforcement leaders in Monmouth, Salem and Warren counties were not

Peter Moskos, a criminologist at the John Jay School of Criminal
Justice in New York, said the data was a product of "racism without
racists." Drug task forces formed to combat the crack and heroin boom
decades ago have shifted their focus to marijuana in order to maintain
funding from national sources, he said.

"Once you have the apparatus, you're not going to care what the drug
is," he said.

A 2012 Star-Ledger report showed heroin, not marijuana, was the
problematic drug in the three New Jersey counties with the worst
arrest disparities - Hunterdon, Ocean and Monmouth.

The report also found states spent an estimated $3.61 billion
enforcing marijuana possession laws in 2010 alone. In New Jersey, that
figure was $127.3 million per year, a number which drew the ire of
pro-marijuana advocates.

"You could build a lot of schools with that," said Sen. Nicholas
Scutari (D-Union) who introduced legislation to de-criminalize
marijuana earlier this year.

Roseanne Scotti, the director of the state chapter of the Drug Policy
Alliance, called the report's findings "morally appalling and fiscally

"I think when you look at some of the counties like that, it's hard to
imagine or find any way to reason your way out of the fact that it
could be anything other than intentional discrimination," she said.
"The numbers don't lie."

- - The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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