In the wake of NYC being controversially labelled the low-level pot arrest capital of the world, NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly released a memo in September sternly reminding his officers to stop falsely charging people for possessing marijuana in public view if individuals removed it from their pocket under the order of a police officer. Since that memo was released, marijuana arrests have dropped 13 percent. But advocates say that isn't enough, and that the NYPD still hasn't come close to addressing the other systematic problems.
According to NYPD stats, there were 1,190 fewer arrests made in the nine weeks since the order, compared with the same period a year earlier—but there were still nearly 8,000 people arrests for pot in that period. In addition, the city is still on track to make another 50,000 marijuana arrests in 2011, close to last year’s record total. And through September, the NYPD stopped-and-frisked 514,000 people, which is a 13 percent increase from 2010.
The vast majority of those arrested for marijuana possession are black or Latino (whites statistically use more marijuana than both those groups). Previously, the head attorney of the Legal Aid Society said, "This will make a tremendous difference because tens of thousands of young people—predominantly people of color—will not be run through the system as criminals." But advocates point out that not much has changed altogether.
“Unfortunately, these figures are cause for outrage, not celebration,” said Gabriel Sayegh, state director at the Drug Policy Alliance. “In this economy, Mayor Bloomberg and the NYPD are wasting millions of tax dollars by using illegal searches and false charges to sweep tens of thousands of Black and Latino youth into the criminal justice system. Even with this drop, more people have still been arrested for small amounts of marijuana in 2011 then in same period in 2010. With these new numbers, NYC goes from marijuana arrest capital of the world to the marijuana arrest capital of the world.”
According to WNYC, members of the most heavily policed precincts—particularly in the Bronx—say they haven't seen the fruits of the arrest downturn. Josue Morel, 19, told them he was arrested on November 18 in front of his Morris Heights apartment. “He asked me, ‘Do you have anything on you?,’” Morel said. “And I said, ‘Yeah, I have four bags of marijuana.’ And he said, ‘Oh, where are they?’” Morel told them the pot was up his sleeve—out of public view—but he said one officer shook his sleeve until three bags dropped out. To fish out the last bag, Morel said the cop had to stick his hand up his sleeve. He was arrested, and lost his job as a result of missing work while sitting in jail.
“Regardless of what the numbers show, the impact is still tremendously felt by the communities that are illegally and disproportionately arrested for something that has been decriminalized for over 30 years,” said Chino Hardin with the Institute for Juvenile Justice Reform and Alternatives and an expert trainer for Know Your Rights workshops. “The crusade continues regardless of the 13% drop. When we see the numbers decrease by 80%, then we will know that the NYPD is meaningfully following and upholding the law.”