Why are blacks busted more often for pot? | Bleader

Why are blacks busted more often for pot?

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  • David Long
Last week, in a discussion of Mick Dumke's and Ben Joravsky's "politics of pot" story, a commenter posed an important question:

Do we have any percentages for the circumstances under which people were arrested for possession? I know the apologists claim that the high percentages of blacks in the system are due to street dealing or open consumption/display, but it would be informative to see how many people were arrested in their homes, driving, walking down the street, etc., when it didn't directly involve a sale.... Seems to me if the cops are searching an inordinate number of vehicles driven by black men or just black guys walking around, those are the people who are going to get locked up.

In their arrest reports, Chicago police code in the location of the arrest—street, residence, police station, school, park, transportation, and business/commercial are common choices. So place of arrest could probably be tracked by offense and neighborhood, though it would take a Freedom of Information Act request to do so. Police also briefly describe the circumstances of the arrest in their arrest reports, and provide more details in case reports.

What the police don't track, of course, is how often they make illegal searches—searches without probable cause that a crime is being committed. Standing on a street corner while black isn't probable cause to search. But as Dumke and Joravsky explained in July, if a police officer searches a person unjustifiably and finds drugs, and he wants to make an arrest, his report is likely to say the "offender" dropped the drugs to the street as the officer approached.

Far more illegal searches occur in poor black neighborhoods than in white neighborhoods. I've been told this by judges, prosecutors, defense lawyers—and by police officers. Poor blacks are less likely to raise a ruckus about an illegal search, partly because they're less likely to be believed, and partly because they don't often have friends who matter—lawyers, reporters, elected officials—to whom they can complain. Many who have grown up with the illegal searches are simply resigned to them.

So, yes, one reason blacks are arrested more often for marijuana possession is that their cars, homes, and persons are more likely to be tossed.

But do blacks also deal openly more often? With cocaine and heroin, the answer is yes, without a doubt. I've never heard "rocks and blows" called out from the porches and street corners of white neighborhoods, but I've heard that not infrequently in some west-side ghettos. I've never heard anyone loudly hawk "reefer" or "weed" or "pot" in any neighborhood—but my guess is that people who sell crack and heroin on the street also sell pot more openly.

There is some evidence that blacks do indeed buy pot more openly. A 2006 study in the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence found that African-Americans were twice as likely as whites to buy outdoors and three times as likely to buy from a stranger—circumstances that make them more prone to being busted.

The fact that drug dealing is rampant in the ghetto shouldn't be surprising. When the prospects for legitimate work are little more than a fantasy—because of an inferior education or a criminal record—slinging heroin, cocaine, PCP, or reefer on a street corner looks like a reasonable choice. Bosses of drug crews don't ask for resumes or run background checks.

Decriminalizing pot or legalizing it makes sense for a number of reasons. But the impact of such a change on the lives of poor urban blacks would probably be negligible. The profound racial disparities in life prospects, sustained in metro areas for decades by segregation, is the larger crime that needs solving.

Read more from Weed Week:

Mick Dumke and Ben Joravsky's feature story, "The politics of pot"

"Father Pfleger: end the pot possession busts!" by Mick Dumke

"Eating Under the Influence: platillo nopal loco," by Mike Sula

"The five best stoner records of the year," by Miles Raymer

"Eating Under the Influence: kimchi-bulgogi omelet," by Kate Schmidt

"A Reader poll about legalizing reefer—and not one word about Mayor Rahm," by Ben Joravsky

"Cooking with cannabis: boat noodles," by Mike Sula

"Today's marijuana lesson comes from New York City," by Mick Dumke

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