I Went to Summons Court and Almost Everyone Was Black or Latino

http://www.alternet.org/civil-liberties/i-went-summons-court-and-almost-everyone-was-black-or-latino

 

“We’ve been begging the cops to ticket bicyclists who violate the law,” wrote New Yorker Ed Sublette in an email to me after reading a previous article I wrote mentioning the summons. “The present traffic environment [is one where] hordes of bicyclists do any damn thing they want, [and it] has made walking down the street a daily danger… for anyone whose head doesn’t spin around 360 degrees.”

Fair enough. Yet it’s impossible to deny that tickets for bike summonses in New York, along with the quota system undergirding it, creates a situation where nonwhites have more interaction with police than other types. This is on purpose. The NYPD is governed by a strategy that demands a high rate of contact between police and people in certain neighborhoods, in order to increase police’s chances of finding people with outstanding warrants for more serious offenses. This is called broken-windows policing.

“In order for police to maintain high rates of contact with suspects, they need a pretext,” says Bernard Harcourt, a scholar who has written extensively about broken-windows policing. “That reason can be marijuana in public view, minor disorder, or turnstile jumping.” Or riding a bike on a public sidewalk.

In theory, everybody should be suspect in the dragnet of broken windows. But its logic is only deployed in places where crime is mindlessly clear-cut. There may be hundreds of thieves in lower Manhattan who regularly plunder the global economy of billions of dollars, but they’re near impossible for a beat cop to identify. In contrast, a vagrant wanted for petty theft in Brooklyn is easy to happen upon, so long as police confront him when he falls asleep on the subway.

The truth is that, like high school, broken windows is all about appearances. So long as things in your neighborhood look pristine and orderly, police are more likely to let you go on your way, while concentrating their vigilance on places that look shabbier (which often means poorer).

These thoughts were spinning around in my mind after receiving my summons. So when I went to the courthouse a few weeks later, I decided to talk with people to see why they were there.

Nearly everyone in line at the courthouse on 346 Broadway was black or Latino, which made sense: A recent investigation by the New York Daily News found these two groups are six times as likely as whites to receive summonses for minor offenses….

The history of loitering summonses in New York is ugly. At three different intervals—in 1983, 1988 and 1992—both the New York Court of Appeals and a federal court have ruled the NYPD’s issuance of such citations unconstitutional. Over and over, they have been found to repeatedly target the poor. Those rulings apparently had little effect: in 2010, Judge Shira Scheindlin with the US District Court found that the city was still meting out tickets like a hedge funder raining dollar bills at a strip club…..

 

 

 

 

Minorities disproportionately nabbed for minor offenses..

http://www.alternet.org/new-data-reveals-new-yorks-blacks-and-latinos-disproportionately-nabbed-minor-offenses

More than 81 percent of New Yorkers issued summonses over “broken windows” infractions during a ten-year period have been Black and Latino, an analysis of city records conducted by the New York Daily News reveals.

In a first-ever breakdown of released summons statistics, the Daily News found that writing summonses is the most frequent activity conducted by the New York Police Department, surpassing felony and misdemeanor arrests combined. Since the “broken windows” policy—which means zero tolerance for small infractions—was implemented during early the 1990s, the number of summonses has increased exponentially. In 1993, 160,000 summonses were issues; in 2005, that number climbed to a peak of 648,638.

Most of these summonses were likely to be issued in Black or Latino communities, according the Daily News.

The most common offenses were consumption of alcohol (1.6 million), disorderly conduct (1 million), public urination (334,000), bicycling on the sidewalk (296,000) and operation of a motor vehicle in violation of the safety rules (213,000). Motor vehicle violations and unlawful possession of alcohol for a minor were not strongly connected to race, but violations for spitting, failure to have a dog license, public consumption of alcohol , disorderly conduct and loitering were.

http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/summons-broken-windows-racial-disparity-garner-article-1.1890567

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In some precincts, the rate of summonses was more than 1 in 10 residents last year, such as the 25th Precinct (East Harlem North), which is 90% black and Hispanic, where there were 18 summonses per 100 residents; the 40th Precinct (Mott Haven, Bronx), which is 98% black and Hispanic (16 per 100 residents); and the 41st Precinct (Hunts Point, Bronx), which is 98% black and Hispanic, (16 per 100 residents).

<a href=’http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/summons-broken-windows-racial-disparity-garner-article-1.1890567′><img alt=’Dashboard 3 ‘ src=’http://public.tableausoftware.com/static/images/BF/BFPPZKWNZ/1_rss.png’ style=’border: none’ /></a>

The New York Times’ editorial board agrees that marijuana prohibition has got to end

http://www.alternet.org/drugs/historic-new-york-times-calls-marijuana-legalization

The New York Times’ editorial board agrees with the majority of Americans that marijuana prohibition has got to end. In an editorial on July 26 titled “Repeal Prohibition, Again” the board outlined the many reasons to legalize the herb, drawing comparisons with the nation’s 13 years of failed alcohol prohibition in the 1920s and ’30s. Following a “great deal of discussion … inspired by a rapidly growing movement among the states to reform marijuana laws,” the board came to the conclusion that the federal government should repeal its 40-year ban on marijuana.

The Times editorial board noted that racist, mass-scale marijuana arrests were a factor in its decision to take a stand:

“The social costs of the marijuana laws are vast. There were 658,000 arrests for marijuana possession in 2012, according to F.B.I. figures, compared with 256,000 for cocaine, heroin and their derivatives. Even worse, the result is racist, falling disproportionately on young black men, ruining their lives and creating new generations of career criminals.”…
Additionally, while the herb’s  healing effects are recognized in the 23 states that have legalized medical marijuana, the federal government denies it has any medicinal qualities and blocks scientific research into its potential benefits.  As the Times editorial points out, “on every level — health effects, the impact on society and law-and-order issues — the balance falls squarely on the side of national legalization. That will put decisions on whether to allow recreational or medicinal production and use where it belongs — at the state level.”

2014 – Major Election Year for Marijuana Reform?

http://www.alternet.org/drugs/why-2014-major-election-year-marijuana-reform

Voters in several states and municipalities nationwide will head to the polls this November and decide whether or not to radically alter the way many parts of America deal with pot.
Voters in three states – Alaska, Florida, and Oregon – will decide on statewide measures seeking to legalize marijuana use and commerce. In addition, voters in the District of Columbia and in various other cities will decide on municipal measures seeking to depenalize the plant’s possession and consumption by adults…..

Sunshine State voters will decide this November on Amendment 2, which seeks to permit for the physician-authorized possession and state-licensed distribution of cannabis. Because the proposal seeks to amend the state constitution, support from over 60 percent of state voters is necessary for the amendment to become law.

If passed, the amendment would allow for a physician to recommend cannabis therapy to any patient at his or her discretion. However, neither qualified patients (nor their designated caregivers) would be permitted to cultivate cannabis. Rather, the proposal authorizes the state Department of Health to determine rules within six-months following the act’s passage for the registration of ‘Medical Marijuana Treatment Centers’ (dispensaries), which would be authorized to cultivate, process, and sell medicinal cannabis and other related products. If regulators not begin registering these facilities within this time frame, “any Florida citizen shall have standing to seek judicial relief to compel compliance with the Department’s constitutional duties,” the measure states. 
Despite coordinated opposition by the Florida Sheriff’s Association, former Reagan anti-drug aide Carlton Turner (who once infamously claimed that marijuana smoking leads to homosexuality and “therefore to AIDS”), and gambling mogul Sheldon Anderson (who recently donated $2.5 million to defeat the measure), public support for Amendment 2 remains high. According to a May 2014 Quinnipiac University poll, 88 percent of Florida voters support the medical use of marijuana when authorized by a physician

46k Drugs Prisoners Could Get Reduced Sentences

http://www.alternet.org/drugs/46k-drugs-prisoners-could-get-reduced-sentences

The underlying drug guidelines amendment was approved by the U.S. Sentencing Commission and submitted to Congress for review in April. Provided Congress takes no action to disapprove of the drug guidelines amendment before November 1, 2014, it will take effect on that date and courts may then begin considering petitions from incarcerated individuals for sentence reductions. Today’s vote allows the drug guidelines amendment to apply retroactively. The U.S. Sentencing Commission ruled that no one who benefits from this reform may be released from prison before November 1, 2015.

Today’s decision reflects efforts underway in Congress and by the Obama administration to reform federal drug sentencing laws, as well as a broader effort to adapt federal policy to overwhelming public support for reforming drug laws, ending marijuana prohibition, and reducing collateral consequences of a drug conviction. In 2010 Congress unanimously passed legislation reducing the crack/powder cocaine sentencing disparity. Bipartisan legislation reforming mandatory minimum sentencing, the Smarter Sentencing Act, has already passed out of committee this year and is awaiting a floor vote in the Senate. Attorney General Eric Holder has made numerous changes this year, including directing U.S. Attorneys to charge certain drug offenders in a way that ensures they won’t be subject to punitive mandatory minimum sentencing.

In just the past two months, the U.S. House of Representatives has voted to block the Drug Enforcement Administration from spending federal funds to undermine state medical marijuana laws and state hemp cultivation laws, and voted on Wednesday to allow banking institutions to accept deposits from marijuana stores and dispensaries in states that regulate marijuana. On Monday, the White House issued a Statement of Administration Policy that expressed strong opposition to a House Republican amendment by Rep. Andy Harris (R-MD) directed at blocking implementation of a recent law the District of Columbia passed replacing jail time for possessing small amounts of marijuana for personal use with a small fine. The statement calls marijuana reform a “states’ rights” issue, a groundbreaking policy position for the White House to take.

http://www.alternet.org/drugs/10-ways-addiction-different-America

Sadly, we’re not in any threat of losing our  dominance in incarceration any time soon, at least in terms of the raw number of prisoners we hold. Some 2.2 million Americans are locked up at any given time—compared to a mere  676,000 in Russia and 385,000 in India.

17% of state prisoners and half of all federal prisoners are incarcerated for  drug crimes—and this doesn’t count the percentage who committed other crimes linked to addiction problems, which is far higher….

Per capita, the tiny island nation of the Seychelles has  matched our rate of 707 prisoners per 100,000 members of the population—but we are still far ahead of slackers like the UK, at 149, and the Netherlands, at 75….

Compare that to the US, which has only 5% of the world’s population but consumes  80% of its opioids. We surely overprescribe in some cases—but everyone else’s cruel under-prescribing needs to be taken into account, too…