Pubdate: Sun, 21 Aug 2016
Source: Chicago Sun-Times (IL)
Copyright: 2016 Sun-Times Media, LLC
Author: Mick Dumke


African-Americans Ticketed, Arrested for Pot Offenses in Chicago Far 
More Than Any Racial Group

Four years after the Chicago City Council decriminalized the 
possession of small amounts of marijuana, African-American 
neighborhoods continue to bear the brunt of enforcement, a Chicago 
Sun-Times investigation has found.

As anticipated, the Chicago Police Department is making a fraction of 
the arrests for misdemeanor marijuana possession it made in 2011 - 
the last full year before cops were given the option of ticketing, 
rather than locking up, people caught with about half an ounce or less.

But 18 of the city's 20 community areas with the highest rates of pot 
possession arrests and 17 of the 20 with the highest rates of 
ticketing are majority African-American, city records show.

Twelve of the 20 neighborhoods with the lowest rates are mostly 
white. The others are predominantly Hispanic or don't have a majority 
population group.

That's all despite the fact that academic studies have found 
marijuana usage is similar across racial and ethnic boundaries.

Among the Sun-Times' other findings:

Largely black East Garfield Park on the West Side has the highest 
rate of arrests and ticketing for misdemeanor possession - 72 times 
greater than in predominantly white Edison Park, which ranks lowest.

The 19 blocks with the most arrests for marijuana possession are all 
on the West Side, and the 20th is on the South Side - all in 
African-American neighborhoods.

Among the 20 blocks where the most tickets have been issued for 
misdemeanor possession, 11 are on the West Side, seven are on the 
South Side, and two are on the North Side.

Since August 2012, the 5100 block of West Madison Street in Austin 
has seen more arrests (362) and tickets (91) for pot possession than 
any other single block in Chicago. That's the result of police 
flooding that block in response to concerns about violence between 
factions of two street gangs, according to a West Side police supervisor.

Since 2013, more than 4,600 of those the police chose to arrest, 
rather than ticket, have been convicted - and 89 percent of them were 
black, 8 percent Hispanic and 2 percent white, court records show.

Even with decriminalization, seven of every 10 convicted of having 
small amounts of marijuana ended up doing jail time.

Through the first four months of this year alone, 72 misdemeanor 
possession cases resulted in a jail sentence. During that same 
period, lawmakers were debating and passing legislation in 
Springfield to lessen marijuana penalties statewide. The measure was 
signed into law last month by Gov. Bruce Rauner.

Among those arrested was a 21-year-old man the police said they 
caught with only the burnt end of a single joint. Its estimated 
street value: just $2. The police said they pulled the man over after 
he rolled through a stop sign in West Garfield Park. They impounded 
his car, and he spent two days in jail before going in front of a 
judge and pleading guilty.

The new state law, which took effect at the end of July, is aimed at 
addressing such disparities, says state Sen.

Heather Steans, D-Chicago, its chief sponsor. Police statewide will 
no longer have the option of making an arrest for possession of less 
than 10 grams, which is about a third of an ounce.

"It really does allow us to focus our attention where problems really 
are," says Steans, who says she hopes the change will free police to 
spend time instead on more serious offenses and on crime prevention.

But some Chicago cops say decriminalization has taken away a tool 
they've used to combat street dealing and press suspected gang 
members for information.

"It was an easy way to get access to these guys," says a veteran 
officer who often works on the West Side. "You have to be able to 
hold something over somebody's head. That's just the way it works. It 
doesn't sound right, but it's a fact of life."

The officer, who spoke on the condition he not be named, says cops in 
Chicago have now been told not to make arrests for marijuana 
possession unless the quantity involved is at least 100 grams - more 
than 3.5 ounces.

The rate of both arrests and ticketing has plummeted since the 
court-ordered release last November of police dashcam video showing 
17-year-old Laquan McDonald shot to death by a Chicago cop, Officer 
Jason Van Dyke, who's now charged with first-degree murder.

In 2015, the department issued about 7,000 tickets for marijuana 
possession. This year, through April, the number was just over 1,200 
- - on pace for 3,700 by year's end.

That reflects a trend across the nation of moving away from the 
"broken-windows" policing strategy, which called for making street 
stops and busts for even minor infractions in hopes that would also 
help prevent more serious crimes.

According to some officers interviewed, that's one reason crime has 
risen in Chicago and other cities over the past year. One longtime 
police supervisor says it's also confusing. "After 30 years on the 
job, I don't understand how to enforce the laws any more," he says.

In recent years, the police suspected that many of those they busted 
for possession were dealing but couldn't prove it, he says: "The 
officer doesn't hear the conversation between the person allegedly 
selling and the buyer. So it's a possession case. And possession is 
now not a crime."

Most of those convicted of low-level marijuana possession in Chicago 
since 2012 had been arrested before, court and police records show.

For example, that 21-yearold who was arrested on the West Side with 
just the burnt end of a joint? He'd previously gotten probation for a 
drug charge and has a case from 2013 pending for possession of an illegal gun.

In another case, a 27-yearold man was pulled over in March 2014 for 
driving through a stop sign in West Humboldt Park. His driver's 
license was suspended, and police searched him and said they found 
four baggies with marijuana they estimated were worth only $40 total. 
But all were labeled with blue stars or green dollar signs - 
apparently denoting sales brands, according to the police.

He spent five days in the Cook County Jail before pleading guilty and 
being released. A year later, he was arrested and convicted again for 
marijuana possession. Altogether since 2004, the same man has been 
charged with marijuana possession or soliciting drug business 27 
times, and he's been convicted five times.

Richard Dickinson, a Chicago defense lawyer, sees the handling of 
marijuana-possession cases as a sign of how policing went wrong years ago.

"They're nickel-and-dime cases that police use to conduct what would 
otherwise be illegal searches and seizures," Dickinson says. "It's a 
law enforcement tool to do investigations they wouldn't otherwise be 
able to do."

He started out as a lawyer four decades ago. Back then, he says, if 
police caught someone with a joint, "They confiscated it and told the 
person to go home."

With the advent of broken-windows policing in the late 1990s and 
early 2000s, possession arrests soared, police data show.

Ald. Chris Taliaferro (29th) says police in his West Side ward often 
make arrests to disrupt open-air drug markets that can be "catalysts" 
for violence.

"But they have to do so lawfully," says Taliaferro, a former police 
officer. "And that means without profiling."

Taliaferro says he supports the use of tickets whenever possible 
because they usually don't take cops off the street as long as arrests.

It's unclear how effective ticketing statewide will be. So far in Chicago:

Just 1 percent of the marijuana possession tickets issued have 
resulted in full payments of fines of $250 or $500. Another 24 
percent have yielded partial payments, sometimes as low as a few 
dollars. About 29 percent of the tickets were dismissed or dropped. 
And the other tickets - thousands of them - have been blown off or 
remain in limbo.

Beside lessening the burden on police and the courts, ticketing 
people for misdemeanor possession also was touted as a source of 
revenue. But fines have brought in a total of less than $679,000 in four years.

Marijuana is legal for recreational use in two states - Colorado and 
Washington. In November, voters will be asked to sign off on 
legalization in five more states - Arizona, California, Maine, 
Massachusetts and Nevada.

Steans says Illinois lawmakers are watching states with legal 
marijuana. "I do think that's the direction we should be heading," she says.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom