It’s been a long while since I’ve posted anything. Quite frankly, the rapidly deteriorating state of our economy, democracy and society has rendered me virtually speechless. I fear anything I say will be interpreted as the paranoid ravings of a ‘hysterical’ woman driven by the irrational fear that others are trying to control her womb, inhabit her brain and impose some form or gendered ‘Jane Crow’ status on her economic and political life……
However, recent events in New York City concerning Governor Cuomo’s proposal to “decriminalize” marijuana possession and its relationship to the mounting resistance to the city’s stop-and-frisk policies have compelled me back to this blog…..
Let’s be clear what the issue is and what it is not. THE ISSUE IS NOT NEW YORK’S STATUTE CONCERNING MARIJUANA POSSESSION WHICH GOVERNOR CUOMO IS PROPOSING TO AMEND – HIS AMENDMENT AMOUNTS TO A CHANGE IN ONE WORD – FROM OR TO AND….
The relevant statute, Section 221.10 is what police and prosecutors have used to arrest and charge nearly all of NYC’s misdemeanor marijuana arrestees. It reads:
A person is guilty of criminal possession of marihuana in the fifth
degree when he knowingly and unlawfully possesses: 1. marihuana
in a public place, as defined in section 240.00 of this chapter, and
such marihuana is burning OR open to public view; [emphasis
Essentially, Governor Cuomo’s proposal would limit the ability of police to arrest a person for possessing less than 7/8 oz of marijuana in a public place to situations where the individual’s marijuana was burning AND in public view. Personally, I don’t believe it takes much courage to advocate for changing one word in a law to have it operate the way it was intended to and the way it does for the majority of New Yorkers that are not young, Black, Latino or poor.
The real issue is the fact that criminalizing Black and Latino youth and making them the principal targets of law enforcement has become a substitute for substantive, evidence-based crime control and prevention strategies. Governor Cuomo’s proposal would do nothing to change the number of unconstitutional and racially-biased stop-and-frisks conducted by the NYPD. Nor would it impact the disproportionate focus on low-level misdemeanor offenses under the guise of “community-policing”.
Basically, Governor, Mayor Bloomberg and Commissioner Kelly are telling Black and Latino New Yorkers:
We intend to continue racially profiling your children, especially your young men, we intend to continue stopping them on the street for no reason, we intend to continue questioning them and subjecting them to humiliating public searches, the only difference is that now if in the course of searching them on the street we uncover a small amount of marijuana in their possession we will no longer arrest them for having it in public view – a crime they had not committed in the first place.
In Bloomberg’s New York City tens of thousands of young people are arrested every year and charged with criminal trespass. Their offense – being present in a residential building that they don’t happen to live in when the police come through conducting one of the more than 250,000 annual “vertical sweeps” of public and private housing complexes under programs with harmless monikers like “Clean Halls” that encourage residents in low-income communities to give police permission to enter the building at any time ‘sweeping’ the halls, stairwells and laundry rooms of people – who coincidentally are disproportionately young, minority and poor. A recently filed suit brought by the New York Civil Liberties Union described the following result of this pervasive police practice on tenants:
As a result, the suit said, “residents of some Clean Halls buildings warn their friends, family members and others not to visit them for fear that they will be stopped, questioned, searched and issued summonses or arrested for trespassing by N.Y.P.D. officers. Consequently, residents of Clean Halls buildings are restricted in their ability to maintain familial ties, friendships and other relationships with individuals of their choosing.”
My point is this – after literally decades of racially-biased policing that unfairly targets and punishes Black and Latino youth by making them the constant subject of the NYPD’s stop-and-frisk practices, people have said ENOUGH! Black and Latino New Yorkers have come to recognize that their children are being criminalized and harassed because people – including officials at the highest levels – have a political and economic interest in doing so. They are demanding an end to discriminatory policing policies and practices that target their youth and turn their communities into mini police states. I believe the proposal to “decriminalize marijuana” (an oxymoron in a decrim state) by Governor Cuomo and Mayor Bloomberg is an effort to take some of the steam out of the growing movement for real accountability over the NYPD.
Black and Latino New Yorkers realize that Bloomberg is not the education Mayor he claimed to be – the city’s schools are more segregated than ever and his promise to improve academic performance has been unfulfilled. Far from being the ‘education’ mayor, Bloomberg has become the ‘Surveillance‘ Mayor. Under his administrations racial-profiling has increased dramatically and expanded to include the majority of the city’s Muslim communities as well as its African-American and Latino communities. Arrests for misdemeanor offenses have also increased dramatically for offenses ranging from simple marijuana possession, to criminal trespass, loitering, violating ‘open container’ laws, jumping turnstiles, using abusive language in public and the ever present catch-all offense – disorderly conduct.
By making this proposal the Governor and Mayor are essentially conceding that they can’t or won’t control the NYPD. They can’t or won’t require the NYPD to enforce the law the way it was intended and had been enforced for the 20 years before Giuliani came along. Changing one word in the law, may remove the ability of NYPD officers to arrest youth for possessing small amounts of marijuana that was not otherwise in public view, but it does not change the police culture that makes them targets for arrest.
That’s what needs to change and we shouldn’t let Cuomo or Bloomberg or anyone else take our EYES OFF THE PRIZE!!
END RACIAL PROFILING IN NEW YORK CITY!!
STOP AND FRISK THE BANKERS – SEE HOW MANY TOXIC FINANCIAL INSTRUMENTS THEY’RE CARRYING
STOP TREATING OUR CHILDREN LIKE CRIMINALS!!
DON’T BELIEVE THE HYPE – CUOMO’S FIX WON’T STOP THE FRISKS!