Pot Arrests in New York City Jump 30 Percent

     MANHATTAN (CN) — New findings show a 30 percent rise in New York City marijuana arrests, despite the mayor’s promises to reduce unnecessary low-level pot charges.
     The newly released data from the first half of 2016 by the New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services showed that misdemeanor marijuana possession arrests increased by nearly 30 percent compared to the same time last year, rising to 9,331 arrests from 7,236 arrests in the same period in 2015.
     The same collection of data showed that total arrests increased by just 2 percent, totaling 140, 978 for the first six months of 2016, only about 2,500 more arrests than same timeframe a year ago.
     Although state lawmakers reduced the penalty for possessing 25 grams of marijuana or less to a noncriminal violation with the Marijuana Reform Act of 1977, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced what he called a “new policy” in November 2014 that made possession of less than 25 grams of marijuana a violation, rather than a misdemeanor.
     A press conference at NYPD headquarters on the changed policy included the spectacle of Police Commissioner Bill Bratton holding up a Ziploc baggie packed with 25 grams of oregano as a visual example of the amount of marijuana that would be considered noncriminal possession.
     Despite Mayor de Blasio’s press release in 2014 calling the initiative “the latest in a series of steps” his administration has taken “to rebuild the relationship between the NYPD and the communities they serve,” the 2016 data showed that 90 percent of those arrested for marijuana possession were minorities.
     A press release on the new statistics from police watchdog group Police Reform Organizing Project, or PROP, notes that another arrest category that involved more than 90 percent people of color was “theft of services” — typically fare-evasion “turnstile jumping” — which the group says “in effect criminalizes poverty.”
     PROP noted that black New Yorkers make up over 51 percent of felony arrests, while comprising only a quarter of the city’s population.
     “While Mayor de Blasio, NYPD Commissioner Bratton, and other city officials have made widely publicized pronouncements about reducing punitive sanctions for marijuana infractions, the data present a different story,” PROP Director Robert Gangi said. “Arrests for marijuana are substantially on the rise by nearly 30 percent for the first six months of this year. Moreover, though research and experience demonstrate that white people use and sell marijuana in proportions and numbers equal to or greater than African-Americans & Latinos, 90 percent of NYPD arrests for marijuana offenses in 2016 have involved New Yorkers of color.”
     The new data arrived on the heels Commissioner Bratton’s retirement announcement, amid a controversial reevaluation of his “broken windows” policing legacy that included the “stop and frisk” program, which was found to have violated the constitutional rights of hundreds of thousands of mostly minority New Yorkers.
     Many “stop and frisk” arrestees were suspected only of minor offenses like possession of small amounts of marijuana.
     “The truth of the matter was, and is, that no laws regarding marijuana were changed in New York. The marijuana laws are the same,” Don Murray, a city criminal defense lawyer, said. “What was at issue was how the local prosecutors’ offices and the NYPD were choosing to enforce those laws.”
     The firing of Commissioner Bratton and the abolition of his era of “broken window” policing were the top demands of the Millions March NYC, a Black Lives Matter-affiliated protest group that has occupied New York’s City Hall park for eight days so far.
     Although Bratton’s retirement announcement occurred a day after the protest began, NYPD officials emphasized that the commissioner’s retirement was planned for months and had “110 percent nothing to do” with the demonstrations.
     Gangi’s review of the 2016 arrest statistics syncs with the demands of Millions March NYC.
     “Time for the hypocrisy to stop and for our city’s leaders to end these blatantly racist practices,” he said in a statement.

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