It's no shocker that the vast majority of marijuana arrests in NYC ensnare blacks and Latinos. But what's really incredible is how, um, high the number of pot arrests have risen during Mayor Bloomberg's first two terms. The lowest-level marijuana arrests rose 50 percent since Giuliani time, according to a recent study [pdf] by Harry Levine, a sociology professor at Queens College. Last year, the NYPD made more low-level pot arrests "than in the 12 years of Mayor Koch, plus the four years of Mayor Dinkins, plus the first two years of Mayor Giuliani" combined. And all this happened under the Mayor who famously told New York, "You bet I did [smoke pot], and I enjoyed it."
Last year the city made 40,300 low-level pot arrests; of these, 87 percent were of blacks or Latinos, according to Professor Levine's report. The NYPD justifies the spike in misdemeanor pot busts as part of the old "broken windows" approach to law enforcement. Bloomberg's chief criminal justice aide tells the Times, "This continued focus on low-level offending has been part of the city’s effective crime-reduction strategy, which has resulted in a 35 percent decrease in crime since 2001." The possession of less than an ounce of marijuana was decriminalized in New York in the '70s; smoking it or having it “open to public view” is a misdemeanor.
Levine's study shows that if you're white or toking in a low-crime neighborhood, you have a good chance of getting off with a ticket or ignored by the cops. Edward McCarthy, a lawyer for the Legal Aid Society, says Mondays and Tuesdays are the days when one sees white defendants in court to answer tickets, typically issued for smoking herb in the park. The rest of the week "is taken up with blacks and Latinos, who are more likely to have spent a night in jail before court." McCarthy tells the Times, "Some of the police officers, who are at the start of their careers, are apologetic when they make these arrests. They say, 'if my lieutenant or sergeant weren’t here, I’d let you go.'"