During a statement announcing Bill Bratton as his choice for police commissioner, Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio was careful to reiterate his disdain for the current paradigm of law enforcement, which sees a disproportionate number of blacks and Latinos arrested for petty crimes like marijuana possession. "We’re not going to proceed with a policy where 90 percent of the people stopped are innocent in every way shape and form," he said at the time.
But numbers on a page are one thing; hearing the story of how Alberto Willmore, a beloved art teacher at the Upper East Side's Ella Baker School, lost his job in 2011 after cops accused him of smoking marijuana outside his Bronx apartment, is another. Willmore, who maintains that the alleged doobie was actually just a cigarette, and that the marijuana the cops used as evidence was an unrelated joint plucked from the gutter, was promptly pulled from the classroom and reassigned to a clerical position in the district office.
"Police officers are charging our clients for possessing marijuana when our clients never possessed marijuana at all, when the marijuana was found on the ground like in Mr. Willmore's case," Scott Levy, an attorney with the Bronx Defenders, tells Buzzfeed. "But the most common scenario that we see is when police officers take the marijuana out of their pocket. The police are then charging our clients with misdemeanor marijuana charges, and in New York, possessing a small amount of marijuana is not a crime. You can only be charged if you are possessing the marijuana in public view. But it only came into public view after police search. And the police were in effect creating crime when there was none—they were manufacturing misdemeanor charges."
After waiting in limbo for 21 months, Willmore's case was dismissed. The Department of Education, though, wasn't willing to allow him to resume his place in the classroom. After paying a $1,500 fine for failing to alert the school of his arrest "in writing," Willmore can work as a substitute teacher and apply for another position. His life as he knows it, however, is gone.
"It's difficult to convince people that something as silly as a marijuana arrest can result in the loss of a job, deportation, eviction," Levy said. "It's tough to convince people that that's actually happening to people, but we see it here every single day." [Via Buzzfeed]