The NAACP endorsed California's marijuana legalization bill last week. A report on marijuana arrests among minorities explains their rationale:
Young blacks and Latinos use marijuana at lower rates than young whites. So why are police in California arresting young blacks and Latinos at higher rates than young whites, and at greater numbers than their percentages of the population? Based on our studies of policing in New York and other cities, we do not think the arrests are mostly a result of personal bias or racism on the part of individual patrol officers and their immediate supervisors. Rather, this is a system-wide phenomenon, occurring in every county and nearly every police department in California and elsewhere.
Police departments deploy most patrol and narcotics police to certain neighborhoods, usually designated "high crime." These are disproportionately low-income, and disproportionately African-American and Latino neighborhoods.
It is in these neighborhoods where the police make most patrols, and where they stop and search the most vehicles and individuals, looking for "contraband" of any type in order to make an arrest. The item that young people in any neighborhood are most likely to possess, which can get them arrested, is a small amount of marijuana. In short, the arrests are racially biased mainly because the police are systematically "fishing" for arrests in only some neighborhoods, and methodically searching only some "fish." This produces what has been termed "racism without racists."
Scott Morgan opines:
Our marijuana laws have never, and will never, be enforced fairly. The brutality of modern drug enforcement reaches every community, but if young white men were given criminal records and subjected to profiling and police harassment at the same rates as people of color, the criminal justice system would quickly come to a crashing halt. The drug war was built on a foundation of fundamental unfairness, and mitigating its catastrophic impact on communities of color requires measures far more drastic than telling police for the millionth time that there's more to their job than searching young black men all day and night.
(Photo: A woman wears a Marijuana hair slide during a rally in support of the International Day for the Liberation of Marijuana, in Mexico City, on May 8, 2010. By Alfredo Estrella/AFP/Getty Images.)