Pubdate: Thu, 13 Jun 2013
Source: Buffalo News (NY)
Copyright: 2013 The Buffalo News
Author: Rod Watson


Normally, I'm not much for conspiracy theories. But you don't have to 
wear a tin-foil hat to connect the dots implicit in the New York 
Civil Liberties Union report showing that blacks are 
disproportionately arrested for having marijuana, even though more 
whites use the drug.

Alarmed by New York City's "stop and frisk" program that targets high 
crime  read "black"  neighborhoods, the NYCLU looked at federal crime 
data for 2010 across the state and found blacks 4.5 times more likely 
than whites to be arrested for marijuana possession.

It's even worse here. In Erie County, blacks are 5.66 times more 
likely to get picked up, and in Niagara County, they are 7.56 times 
more likely.

This despite the fact that studies consistently show that blacks use 
marijuana at lower rates than whites. For instance, the federal 
government's National Household Survey on Drug Abuse shows whites 
reporting more pot use than blacks in every survey from 2002-03 
though 2010-11. Yet blacks more often get arrested, which is a crime in itself.

But the larger issue is that such arrests start a chain of events New 
York Law School's Justice Action Center calls "collateral consequences."

Those are the effects on housing, school and job prospects that hold 
back blacks and lock in place yawning gaps in income, wealth and 
education, even if there are no fingerprints on such policies 
perpetuating a two-tiered society.

Police, in fact, insist that race plays no role in arrests, pointing 
instead to economic conditions that breed crime.

But how does that play out? Blacks get arrested more often because 
they live in poor neighborhoods ... which have more crime ... which 
necessitates a higher police presence ... which results in more 
arrests and convictions ... which makes it harder to get an education 
or a job ... which creates more poverty ... which leads to more crime 
. which ...

It's a vicious cycle that proceeds on social autopilot. Perhaps no 
one sets out to target blacks; but the end result is the same as if they had.

"Consequences can be very severe and really life-altering," said 
Donna Lieberman, NYCLU executive director.

For instance, she said, misdemeanor amounts of marijuana can get 
people barred from pubic housing and from receiving students loans. 
Legal immigrants can be deported with two such convictions. And even 
though discrimination because of a criminal conviction is generally 
supposed to be illegal, having that misdemeanor pot conviction can, 
in the real world, prevent someone from getting a job  meaning the 
blatant disparities in pot stops exacerbate the economic divide.

"It's condemning people to go through life with incredible hurdles, 
in addition to the societal obstacles that exist to people who are 
born into poverty," Lieberman said. "We're creating a lopsided 
playing field for people of color. This is not some benign disparity."

It's a disparity whites, who use pot at higher rates than blacks, 
nevertheless don't have to contend with.

One answer is the Assembly bill closing the loophole that allows 
criminal charges for having a small amount of marijuana "in public 
view." Why is it "in public view"? Because cops can order the person 
to empty his pockets.

That would be one key in breaking the cycle of disparities - a cycle 
that leaves some wondering if there really is a conspiracy against them.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom