Conversation Of The Week LIV: Police Target Black And Latino Marijuana Users

April 15, 2013
Written by Rita Rizzo in
National Collegiate Dialogue
Login to rate this article
In New York City over 85 percent of the people arrested and jailed for marijuana possession are black and Latino. Photo Credit:

Police Target Black And Latino Marijuana Users

New York City (NYC,) recently dubbed “the marijuana arrest capital of the world” boasts over a million hours of police work devoted to 440,000 pot possession arrests over the past 11 years. Although most of these arrests were low-level misdemeanors, police appear justified in using their valuable time to arrest, process, and prosecute weed smokers, most of which end up spending one night in jail.

According to a new report issued by the Drug Policy Alliance on Mar. 19, 2012, although young whites use marijuana at higher rates, over 85 percent of the people arrested and jailed for marijuana possession are black and Latino, with 50 percent of those detained being under the age of 21. With seven NYC neighborhoods targeted for “stop and frisk” searches of potential suspects, none of these neighborhoods is predominantly white.

“Stop and frisk” protocol allows police to stop “suspicious persons” and ask them to empty their pockets, if police find marijuana during the frisk, the drug is then considered to be “publically displayed.”

After a 1977 law decriminalized marijuana possession in New York for amounts of less than one ounce, police were then given authority to arrest and charge anyone if the marijuana was in public view.

Even New York’s Governor Cuomo has come out against these arrests in his 2013 State of the State address by saying, “These arrests stigmatize, they criminalize, and they create a permanent record. It's not fair, it's not right, it must end, and it must end now."

Floyd, et al. v. City of New York, et al., is a federal class action lawsuit filed against the New York City Police Department (NYPD) and the City of New York by challenging the NYPD's practices of racial profiling and unconstitutional “stop and frisk.” The case is now being heard, and may bring an end to this relentless pursuit of black and Latino youth for an offense that white kids appear to commit with near impunity.

Article reprinted with permission of 

National Collegiate Dialogue


Unbelievable Racism that Ignores the Facts

Submitted by UCCS-S2013-29 on

I found this article to be pretty fascinating because although the numbers clearly show that most users of marijuana are white, minority races are still being targeted. The "stop and frisk" protocol just sounds like a fancy name for being able to act upon racial profiling. I can't even imagine what people would say if this protocol was allowed in a majority white neighborhood that is middle to upper class. That is because you would never see it happen. Even if a white youth was found with marijuana I am sure they would be less likely to spend a night in jail and have it put on their permanent record. This article reveals once again how deeply embedded racial stereotypes are in the public's and law enforcement's minds. Change needs to happen, especially in the criminal justice system.

Racial Profiling

Submitted by UCCS-S2013-17 on

It's interesting to point out that police officers have benefited greatly from using the "stop and frisk" practices. It gives them the opportunity to encounter crimes more frequently than if they were to just sit around and wait for someone to file a report. However, in this case, I honestly believe that the minorities were being targeted on purpose by using the stop and frisk protocol as a disguise. As UCCS-S2013-29 has mentioned, the fact that it is statistically proven that more whites use marijuana than minorities, and yet the fact that majority of the arrested are minorities, just does not make sense. I believe NYPD will try to justify their actions saying the reason more minorities gets arrested is because they tend to hang out in high crime concentrated areas, that it can't be helped that they are viewed to be suspicious. However, wouldn't it make more sense for them to focus on more major crimes rather than petty drug offenses where these minorities only spend one night in jail and yet have the incident be recorded permanently under their names? It is the same as if they were to just stumble across a white marijuana smoker in a middle class community, it is most likely that they will be let go with a warning, rather than be taken into custody. So why is it different for any other race that live in lower income class communities?

New York is getting the shake down

Submitted by UCCSWEST-S2013-19 on

It seems that there is alot of controversy when it comes to New York Police Department and their practices. I have to say it is hard to be a cop, put your life on the line, and it would be hard to make the right decision all the time when it comes to protecting and serving. On the other hand it does seem as though they are racially profilling based on their arrest rates for marijuana use. If a police officer tells you to empty your pockets you should not be charged for public display, I think that is wrong. It sounds as though they are taking care of it though. I didn't really like how at the end the group "white kids" is used to counter what is being done to the black and latino population. Although it is wrong I just thought it could have been worded better. All in all our criminal justice system is in need for some serious remodeling, and it is not always easy to be the good guy and the bad guy for a police officer.

"white kids"

Submitted by UCCSWEST-S2013-23 on

I didn't even notice the reference to white kids until I read your comment and then back and re-read the end of the article. Because it white kids have increased their usage of marijuana, it seems unjust that black and Latino youth continue to experience a higher arrest rate for possession. I'm not sure toning down the rhetoric would have made quite the same point. It is white youths, white young adults, etc, who are being given a pass because of their skin color.


Submitted by UCCSWEST-S2013-40 on

This is the sad truth that is not only in NYC, but in every city, state, or region in the U.S. African Americans and Hispanics are always targeted, when whites are just as guilty, and in this case, even more guilty as a collective group. They also recieve harsher punishments than white middle class citizens. And we wonder why minorities do not respect the police force. The majority of police or predominately white, leaving the other ethnicities with little to no representation; therefore, it is easy for white policemen to take advantage of their authority and use it on racist acts such as the example given above. There are so much more crimes that should be focused on that all races particpate in, that policemen should be focusing on, instead of targeting young minority groups.

Well Duh

Submitted by UCCS-S2013-13 on

Racial targeting goes beyond individuals. Whole communities are targeted becasue they are predominately of a specific racial type. It makes sense, then, that if you spend most of your efforts policing a neighborhood that is predominatley Black, then most of your arrests are going to be of that race as well. It is also true that white kids do these drugs as much as black kids. 80% percent of the staff at my old job were high school pot heads, and they were also mostly white. In fact, practically everyone I have met who smoked weed was white. The black kids I knew tried to stay away from that stuff so they wouldn't further the stereotype. We need to stop focusing on race and start focusing on probability. A better statistic to follow than race would be age. If most of the people who were arrested were under the age of 21, then perhaps the police should focus on people of that age group. And not just the black or latinos in that age group, but EVERYONE. Racial targeting just keeps racism alive.

racism at its Finest

Submitted by UCCS-S2013-34 on

I entitled this post as such because police are supposed to be our finest, with outstanding moral values. as such this is not the case obviously for the NYPD. stereotyped prejudice is a reoccurring theme in America today. noted that whites as well as minorities are using marijuana but that the targeted audience of users is strictly among minorities of latin and black decent is wrong. no doubt does racial profiling happen and it is evident in this article that within the borrows of NY where whites are the minority the stop and frisk seizure of marijuana is targeting these groups. already at a disadvantaged place because of the dominate social class which is white I might add. im questioning whether or not they are also profiling based off of gender. if so we cannot think about the profiling separately but must do so intersectional. one cannot argue that being a women or being a man does not overlap with being a minority or dominate class.

Racism at its Finest

Submitted by UCCSWEST-S2013-41 on

The part of this article that grabbed my attention was that marijuana in quantities of less than 1oz has been decriminalized since 1977, so technically speaking they are allowed to have small amounts of marijuana so long as it is in plain sight (public); however, it is because of the NYPD that it is visible. Makes absolutely NO sense to me.


Submitted by UCCSWEST-S2013-20 on

Well, firstly this article is poorly written and the facts are incorrect. Stop and frisk is for weapons and people should educate themselves on the law. The article says stop and frisk allows a police officer to have the person empty their pockets. Wrong!!! In my opinion these arrests and stats are a waste of time and tax payers money. Police should be investigation murders, rapes, assaults, thefts and other hard drug crimes, NOT less than an ounce of marijuana.

weed response

Submitted by UCCSWEST-S2013-30 on

While I agree that people should do some research on the law, I do not think the article meant to imply that stop and frisk is used solely for drug seizures. Stop and frisk does allow for officers to ask to see what is in the pockets of those stopped and then these petty charges are filed. They are filling a quota. Stop and frisk is an excuse to profile and it is not very effective in putting an end to anything to do with illegal weapons. I agree with your final statement as well, they should be putting their resources into bigger things than teenagers with small amounts of weed on them. In a city that allows so long as it is not out. They have created a loophole and it is wrong.

Marijuana Arrests

Submitted by UCCSWEST-S2013-41 on

It seems to me as though numerous problems with racial profiling in NY seem to involve the NYPD. I think this is yet another way for the NYPD to single out minorities and subject them to humiliation for less than an adequate reason. The "Stop and Frisk" policy in my opinion violates the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution. I do not understand how the government does not consider this unreasonable search and seizure. The "Stop and Frisk" policy shifts the focus from where it should be, on major crimes to insignificant petty offenses. With many states legalizing marijuana I find it astonishing that the NYPD would stretch their already strained budget for small possession charges. Since these practices are occurring in predominantly black and Hispanic neighborhoods it is next to impossible for the NYPD to deny that they are racial least in my opinion.

Marijuana Arrests

Submitted by UCCSWEST-S2013-41 on

It seems to me as though numerous problems with racial profiling in NY seem to involve the NYPD. I think this is yet another way for the NYPD to single out minorities and subject them to humiliation for less than an adequate reason. The "Stop and Frisk" policy in my opinion violates the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution. I do not understand how the government does not consider this unreasonable search and seizure. The "Stop and Frisk" policy shifts the focus from where it should be, on major crimes to insignificant petty offenses. With many states legalizing marijuana I find it astonishing that the NYPD would stretch their already strained budget for small possession charges. Since these practices are occurring in predominantly black and Hispanic neighborhoods it is next to impossible for the NYPD to deny that they are racial least in my opinion.

I think that this is a good

Submitted by UCCS-S2013-21 on

I think that this is a good example of the theory about policing and crime. When we place a large number of police officers in lower income or minority neighborhoods, then they are more likely to find more crime. High income and/ or majority white neighborhoods are not policed as much, they find less crime, not because it doesn’t exist but because it isn’t as highly policed. I think this happens all the time and is another way the privileged are overlooked and the rest scrutinized.I also think that you make a good point that it is harder to claim racial profiling when in a majority black or Hispanic neighborhood.

I think that first and

Submitted by UCCSWEST-S2013-16 on

I think that first and foremost we should consider the population of NYC. If there are more minorities than white people living there, it would make sense that the crime rates of anything are higher for minorities. That being said, it is very wrong to have a policy that basically allows a police officer to stop anyone, for any reason, just to 'frisk' them. Police are meant to make people feel safe, not frighten them, or make you want to avoid them. This makes me want to avoid police in NYC, and I don't even smoke pot or carry it, or anything of that sort. It seems like an evasion of privacy.

I think you make a good point

Submitted by UCCS-S2013-5 on

I think you make a good point about what the population of New York is. In the article, it does not say what the population of NY is, because if it is a higher minority, then I am sure they will get caught more. The one thing I do not understand is why are they going into the neighborhoods that do not have as many white people living there. Is it because they are targeting minorities, or is it because that is where the most crime and drug use is? Many questions that should have been stated in the article. I think you are right about invasion of privacy by randomly frisking people. The police need to do their job to make people feel safe, but especially in a big city of NYC, I am sure bigger crimes are being made other than people smoking pot!

So Old.

Submitted by UCCSWEST-S2013-5 on

I guess it's not really a surprise anymore that minorities are looked at far more than white people are for crimes. I can't believe all the time and effort cops are putting in to arrest these people on really useless charges...they're using time, tax money, and jail space for people who really aren't even committing crimes. It kills me that people who actually commit awful crimes might not even have space in a jail cell because it's taken up by a meager pot smoker. I was slightly confused on how NY made a law that said weed is legal if it's under an ounce and not in public sight in 1977...but if a cop tells you to empty out your pockets and you have weed then it's "publicly displayed"...maybe the cops don't have much to do around there, but they should still widen their area of focus so it's not discriminating against minorities. White people smoke pot too

Police Bullying

Submitted by UCCSWEST-S2013-36 on

I think the fact that the smaller amounts of marijuana are legal as long as they are not on display, but the police use their "authority" to force its display is nothing more than bullying. It is a combination of feigned busyness while on the job and using your position to pick on minorities. Someone mentioned the ethnic breakdown of NYC's population. That would be a valid point were it not for the fact that the article clearly states that none of the 7 neighborhoods targeted are predominantly white. This is nothing more than a continued attack on minorities by the police in power who are more than likely white.


Submitted by UCCS-S2013-12 on

Articles, like these, sadly remind us of the huge racism problems happening within our entire country. However much this is old news as one student commented, unless old news becomes truly newsworthy and truly a national dialouge, what will happen? Racism will continue. Bringing these issues into our daily conversations and into our daily struggles is the only way we can change these things. We need to all be in unison against racism where we will no longer tolerate legal discriminations. This is one of the things we have normalized in our society. White males have the most authority and chance during court, legal, and police preceedings. Truly, this must change.

Bringing Racism to the Table

Submitted by UCCSWEST-S2013-1 on

I agree that in order to deal with racism, we must talk about it. But to be honest, I had not heard much about privilege and the true underlining issues of racism until taking a course in college. So my thought is this type of education needs to be more public, not just available to those who are privileged to be a part of an institution that teaches about it. We need more public arenas where this is brought to the table.

Huge Problem

Submitted by UCCSWEST-S2013-1 on

This article reminds me of one of the previous articles about the NYPD racially profiling criminals of "color". I think there is obviously a big problem there with their crime fighting tactics. The bigger problem here is that when looking at someone who smokes marijuana, there is no specific "type" of person that does. People that use this drug recreational are just as diverse as those who drink alcohol. So what does a pot smoker look like to the NYPD to give them the reason to frisk someone? Marijuana use is not limited to ghettos or rough areas either. So frisking more people of color when searching for pot is racially profiling and expressing some sort of stereotype that blacks and Latinos are those who do illegal drugs. This is a huge problem. I don't like the idea of police doing these random friskings any ways, because for those who are innocent, where are their rights? If someone is pulled over for a traffic violation and is therefor searched, I get it because they gave the officer reason. But for someone just walking down the street to be pulled aside and touched by the officer solely based on their "looks" is totally wrong and should not be something allowed to do.

Wow this article is shocking.

Submitted by UCCS-S2013-26 on

Wow this article is shocking. It is sad that such racism exists in our society today. The percentage of Blacks and Latinos being arrested for this crime are way our of proportion compared to the percentage of the population these groups make up. I was also surprised how many hours are being spent to combat marijuana. It seems these resources could be put to much better use. Plus those arrested for possession of the drug are sent to jail overnight which seems to be another waste of valuable resources.


Submitted by UCCS-S2013-29 on

I agree with your comment that a lot of our resources could be put to better use than spending many hours to combat marijuana and keeping people in jail overnight. I do think, however, that the root of this issue lies in the fact that combating drugs is a racist system rather than the fact that our resources are being used up. Thus, we need to frame the issue in such a way that people know that it isn't just about resources being wasted, but how racial injustice is still flying under the radar today.


Submitted by UCCSWEST-S2013-6 on

I hadn't considered the implications associated with our society's resources. With limited resources one could imagine that there are alternative actions that would be more efficient. I can't imagine what that could possible be.Another person suggested that these arrests aren't necessary because there are "bigger" problems out there. I don't agree with that statement, but it's true that opinions will vary as to what is a better use of resources.

It is unbelievable how NYPD

Submitted by UCCS-S2013-19 on

It is unbelievable how NYPD functions. It is not that they do not realize their racism; it is a growing problem of the foundation of their system. Police wants to make money from stopping and frisking and the higher authorities want to keep the minorities away from the streets, making them further segregated. Especially targeting them for marijuana use? NYPD should be ashamed on willing to do such lazy jobs, when they could be looking out for real crime. Of course it is extremely scandalous that the police stops and frisks for marijuana only in predominantly minority neighborhoods, especially from the facts that whites use/sell illegal drugs much more than do the blacks. I am glad to see at least New York governor being against these arrests as they are criminalizing and stigmatizing.

By doing this they are

Submitted by UCCSWEST-S2013-28 on

By doing this they are enforcing racism and racial profiling. Because of the statistics people assume that blacks and hispanics use marihuana more than white people. This is clearly not the case. So how is it justified for a group of people to be placed under this reputation.

Mutual Agreement

Submitted by UCCSWEST-S2013-6 on

I noticed that one of my fellow classmates and I share a similar stance. It's logical that more arrests are going to be made in the neighborhoods that are "frisked" this most. I can't say with certainty whether this is an act of racism or simply some unintentional stereotyping. I assume the best in people, so until I see something a bit more blatant I won't make assumptions of the attitudes of the police force.There was a similar article about this several weeks ago on this site. I don't recall exactly what my thought process was, but I think I did make assumptions about the attitudes of police officers. I have since then learned more and more about diversity issues, and I'm now aware of how easy it is for an individual to assume and even stereotype.I'm not even going to complain about the police having people turning out their pockets and then considering that "displaying in public" because the individual's shouldn't have the stuff to begin with.

I agree that this outrageous

Submitted by UCCS-S2013-3 on

I agree that this outrageous "stop and frisk" should stop because yes, it may be blacks and latinos who are getting arrested for these criminal acts, but that doesn't mean that all of them are criminals. NYPD shouldn't stop random blacks and latinos on the street and ask them to empty their pockets. It is racial profiling and it needs to stop. If it doesn't stop, I wonder what is next?

Blatant Racism

Submitted by UCCS-S2013-11 on

I don't know how police officers can stop and frisk people under the guise of them being "suspicious." What exactly makes a person suspicious? The article even states that this protocol is not used in neighborhoods that are predominantly white. This leads me to believe that what makes a person suspicious is their race or ethnicity. I don't understand how this is not considered racial profiling. I wonder what would happen if they enforced these policies in white neighborhoods and asked them to empty their pockets. Would the white person be arrested or would they let him off with just a warning? I wonder what would have to happen to make it stop if they don't even take what the governor says into consideration.

This is just ridiculous. I

Submitted by UCCS-S2013-14 on

This is just ridiculous. I know that with police officers and their line of work I understand why they might stereotype against African American people or Latino people. However; at the same time police officers need to be knowledgeable and do their research. For example, the article states that those who were arrested for marijuana possession where mostly whites. As a police officer I find that it is very important information that they should not over look. It appears to me that police officers need to be re-educated about racism and stereotyping.

The stereotypical mindset at its finest new

Submitted by UCCSWEST-S2013-9 on

It is amazing to me how stereotypes control our actions as a society. There is a show that has been on BET called "Don't Sleep" hosted by TJ Holmes. It is a late night talk show that mainly focuses on the Black community and what America should be paying attention to. Each show is based on statistics, and one in particular caught my attention that can connect to this article. The shocking statistic was that in 2012, there were more Black males stopped and frisked in New York, than there are Black Males. This means that statistically every Black male in New York was stopped and frisked, and some more than once. These actions are due to the policy the article talks about that allows police officers to make judgement calls on who "suspicious persons" are. There is obviously a problem with this system and the article explains the frisks in a way that seems highly unjust. If less than an ounce of Weed is legal to have but not to be displayed, and the police officer forces you to display it, then charges you for displaying it how it is not a violation of the law? The police are proving that they are more inclined to believe a Black or Hispanic person is more likely to be selling or using drugs than a White person, even when the statistics say otherwise. It is all about how we see and perceive the world, rather than how it really is.