Marijuana

Not race, crime rate is the focus on marijuana arrests

1/5/14
from The Gray Area:

Harry-Gene, posted this comment on 1/3/2014 at 2:32 AM CST to the Washington Post Wonkblog article about Marijuana arrests and racism and this chart.

Several people in these comments report the common mis-perception or guess that most people get arrested while smoking. This is not correct.

Most people arrested for marijuana possession were not smoking it and typically had a small amount hidden in their clothing, vehicle or personal effects. The police found the marijuana by stopping and searching them (often illegally), or by tricking them into revealing it.

Police departments concentrate their patrols only in certain neighborhoods, usually ones designated as “high crime.” These are mainly places where low-income whites and people of color live. In these neighborhoods, police stop and search the most vehicles and individuals while looking for “contraband” of any type to make an arrest. The most common item that people in any neighborhood possess that will get them arrested—and the most common item that police find—is a small amount of marijuana.

Police officers patrolling in middle- and upper-middle-class neighborhoods typically do not search the vehicles and pockets of white people, so most well-off whites enjoy a de facto legalization of marijuana possession. Free from the intense surveillance and frequent searches that occur in other neighborhoods, they have little reason to fear a humiliating arrest and incarceration. This produces patterns, as in Chicago, where whites constitute 45 percent of the population but only 5 percent of those arrested for possession.

The above three paragraphs come from a recent article in The Nation that discusses the racist marijuana arrests nationally and the ACLU report which documents them. Links to the Nation article, the ACLU report and much more information about the racist marijuana possession arrests are here.

Although whites and blacks of all ages use marijuana at about the same rate, young whites (18-25) use marijuana at higher rates than young black or Latinos.

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This is a good summary of the issue with very useful data referenced, though it spins heavily to the left. That has more to do with the evaluation of and conclusions derived from the data than what the data says. The evaluation is narrow and the conclusions limited, saying only that if arrest rates are higher for blacks than white, if both blacks and whites use is about the same, it must be racism.

But if you look at the data and the arrest details, as this person does correctly state, then the reason for more arrests of blacks is not based on use or race, it is based on income and criminal activity. Would you want the police to not patrol high crime rate areas?

If you look at data about marijuana use you will likely find the same arrest wherever you search. If you are targeting high-crime communities you are going to find marijuana. Since those areas are more often found in inner cities you are going to find more blacks. Not racism, just what the facts tell you.

Does that mean affluent whites get a free pass? No. It means low crime rate communities get somewhat a free pass because police do not need to stop and search people walking down the street who are not likely to commit a crime. Has nothing to do with race. Has to do with crime.

So the message is if you are doing something illegal, do it in a community without other criminal activity going on that you might get caught up in. That is a basic tenant of life, most of us are taught by our parents when we are young - "you are judged by the company you keep". Doesn't have to be nice, just happens to be true.

If you want blacks to stop getting arrested for marijuana, don't make them whites, make marijuana possession and use legal. But police activity will continue in high crime communities and blacks will get arrested for other misdemeanors, simply because of the high crime focus. Swap whites for blacks in high crime areas and see who gets arrested.

Completely evaluate the data and go where the data leads you. But unfortunately, confirmation bias takes over too often for both the left and right, and incomplete, biased conclusions result. Intelligent people will ask the right questions and look for the true answers, not ideological talking points.



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