NYPD Tried To Blame High Marijuana Arrest Rates For Black People On Higher Call Rates. Here’s Why That Doesn’t Add Up

Photo Credit: Spencer Platt

In New York, the New York Police Department has recently attempted to explain its disproportionate arrest rates of black and Hispanic people on weed charges by saying that more residents in majority black and Hispanic neighborhoods call the cops to complain about weed.

If that explanation doesn’t pass the smell test to you, then you’re not the only one. On Sunday, the New York Times published an investigation into marijuana-related arrests for black and Hispanic people in the city and found that even when compared to white neighborhoods with a similar rate for weed-related complaints, black and Hispanic people were arrested at a rate of up to 10 times more than whites.

The news likely doesn’t surprise anyone even mildly familiar with the justice system and how the war on drugs (which lasted more than 30 years) has impacted people of color. Still, the latest NYT report adds to a growing amount of data on the racialized enforcement of drug policies, even as those policies presumably get more progressive.

In the report, the NYT compared arrest rates in NYPD’s Canarsie precinct, which polices a section of New York’s Brooklyn borough that’s 85 percent black, versus its Greenpoint precinct, which is 4 percent black. In both neighborhoods, residents called 311 and 911 to complain about marijuana at the same rate, writes the Times. But arrest rates were four times higher in Canarsie than in Greenpoint.

The same trend held up in New York’s Queens borough. Queens Village, a precinct where more than half of residents are black, had marijuana arrest rates 10 times higher than in Forest Hills, which has a “tiny proportion” of black residents, according to the Times. Again, this despite both precincts receiving the same amount of marijuana-related calls.

And when looking at Manhattan (where black people are arrested at a rate 15 times higher than that of whites, overall), the Times compared a precinct covering western Harlem and a northern section of the Upper West Side. Again, despite fielding similar numbers of complaints, the Harlem precinct had double the arrest rates of the Upper West Side (not surprisingly, that section of Harlem also had double the amount of black residents as the Upper West Side).

Even with marginally progressive marijuana policies—the Times notes New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio’s 2014 announcement that the NYPD would give summonses for carrying personal marijuana and only make arrests for smoking in public—a whopping 87 percent of weed-related offenses hit black people and Hispanic people. That proportion has “remained roughly the same for decades” writes the Times.