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Well, now we're knee deep in his third term and despite all the concern that the NYPD's bike law crackdown was going to divert police attention from the important stuff, the Times reported in February that there are more pot bust in New York today than ever before. About 140 people got cuffed and hauled away off the street for pot offenses every single day.
An answer to why that is may be found on the "NYPD Tapes" that fell into the hands of The Village Voice last summer, to too little fanfare. Brooklyn police officer Adrian Schoolcraft recorded hundred of hours of talk between his colleagues and superiors at Bed-Stuy's 81st precinct over the course of a year. Since then another set of tapes from a precinct in the Bronx has surfaced. These tapes reveal how aggressive the department's "stop and frisk" tactics have become, with commanding officers demanding their subordinates "turn this place into a ghost town." They show officers under constant, intense pressure to keep their "activity" up, filling arrest quotas that city lawyers continue to deny exist.The tapes show a department entirely obsessed with statistics, insistent upon manipulating them.
When cops stop and frisk someone, or coerce them into emptying their pockets (as in B.'s case), they drive them to commit a crime. It is only at the point when said person cooperates and reveals the controlled substance to the cop that they are in violation of the law against having marijuana "open to public view," Queens College Professor, Harry Levine, an expert on marijuana law enforcement, explains.
Police Commissioner Ray Kelly's "productivity goals," or "suggested numbers" have cops scurrying around at the end of each month, desperately trying to fill quotas for tickets and arrests. Potheads (and now cyclists) have proven the easiest prey because of how safe and quick the arrest is. "They provide overtime while giving the appearance of productivity," Levine told The Voice in 2008. But isn't it weird, statistically, that 86% of those arrested for possession were black or Latino, when more whites smoke pot?
According to NYU Criminal Law Professor Paul Chevigny, author of the book, Police Power: Police Abuses in New York City, black and Latino men between the ages of 18-25 in these "high crime" areas are just the most vulnerable because they might lack the political connections to complicate these arrests for the police. "It would not be politically possible to make so many stops of white people in middle class neighborhoods," he writes in an email. Racial preconceptions also play a role. "Cops, including some minority cops, are more likely to be suspicious of minority youths," he adds.
Yet of the non-violent offenders coerced into exposing their marijuana, inadvertently committing a crime, 60% had no prior criminal record, according to Levine's study. The mere cost of prosecuting these harmless misdemeanor offenders for the sake of crime statistics is questionable on its own, but these arrests take a far larger toll: they introduce young men of color into the criminal-justice system. As Levine points out, employers often don't hire those with criminal records and these busts can predestine a life of limited opportunity.
It isn't really surprising that marijuana arrest statistics reflect the broader racial prejudice ingrained in the system—it's just one more factor that perpetuates the cycle of inequality that plagues the city. In 2007, the top one percent took home 45 percent of the city's income, according to a study by the Fiscal Policy Institute. That's a wider income gap than during the Depression. The single richest New Yorker is worth more than the poorest 1.5 million combined. And none of these trends does the Bloomberg administration seek to reverse. Can't afford the subway, let alone a cab? They'll get you for riding your bike. Can't afford a few $6 pints? They'll get you for sparking a $5 joint.