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Seattle's Reason To Review Drug Policy

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In the course of challenging the arrests of 19 people caught with the
equivalent of "less than six Plain M&Ms" in drugs between them, public
defenders have uncovered compelling evidence of racial disparity in
drug-delivery arrests in Seattle.

The Seattle Police Department and King County Prosecutor's Office, parties
to the lawsuit, wanted the evidence to remain covered. They both asked King
County Superior Court Judge Richard Jones to keep the information from the
public. Last month, Jones denied their requests.

At issue is a report prepared for the Seattle Defender Association's Racial
Disparity Project by Katherine Beckett, associate professor of sociology at
the University of Washington. Based on police drug-arrest data, drug-use
statistics, field observations and interviews, Beckett's study implies that
a dramatically disproportionate number of African Americans are arrested in
Seattle for selling drugs.

Beckett's study indicates that nearly 63 percent of those busted for
delivery of serious drugs (heroin, cocaine, methamphetamine and ecstasy)
are black and 19 percent are white. Yet Beckett estimates that the vast
majority of those who use and deliver serious drugs in Seattle are white
and a small minority are black. Whites make up about 68 percent of
Seattle's population; blacks just over 8 percent.

Beckett's conclusions admittedly are based on statistical extrapolations,
but even taken most conservatively, they display what should be for this
city a discomforting racial disparity between offenders and arrests. The
prospect that police are -- for any reason -- targeting minority dealers is
no less discomfiting than the prospect that they may be ignoring white dealers.

In and of itself, the Beckett study is provocative, not conclusive. But it
raises concerns that the Seattle Police Department and city government in
general must address.

Initiative 75, passed by voters in September, mandates the creation of a
Marijuana Policy Review Panel. Perhaps Mayor Greg Nickels, the City Council
and City Attorney Tom Carr might consider expanding the panel's purview for
a review of drug enforcement policies in general.

Pubdate: Sun, 21 Dec 2003
Source: Seattle Post-Intelligencer (WA)
Webpage: Seattle's reason to review drug policy
Copyright: 2003 Seattle Post-Intelligencer
Contact: editpage@seattle-pi.com
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