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Racial Disparity in Marijuana arrests in New York City

1837 words (7 pages) Essay in Criminology

08/02/20 Criminology Reference this

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Racial Disparity in Marijuana arrests in New York City


In New York City African Americans and Hispanics are being arrested for violating marijuana laws at “four times the rates of whites,” yet both whites and blacks consume marijuana at roughly the same rates (Racial Disparity…).

As The American Civil Liberties Union report The War on Marijuana In Black and White said: “On average, a Black person is 3.73 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than a white person, even though Blacks and whites use marijuana at similar rates. Such racial disparities in marijuana possession arrests exist all over. Indeed, in over 96% of counties with more than 30,000 people in which at least 2% of the residents are Black, Blacks are arrested at higher rates than whites for marijuana possession” (The American Civil Liberties…). This fact is predominantly shown in marijuana use in New York City within black and Hispanic communities.

This memo examines inconsistencies in black and Hispanic detainees in how they may have a higher chance to be arrested than their white equivalents, more likely to be convicted, and may tend to receive more severe sentences on average. This memo analyzes whether any racial disparities may have actual criminal justice justifications in New York City under the supervising vision of the former governor, George Pataki.


In the past years, there have been to address systematic bias in sentencing, primarily by reducing judicial discretion with determinate conviction in New York City. In many fields across the US, specific guidelines were advanced that define the extent of a sentence to be executed based on the seriousness of the crime and the degree of an offender’s record. These policies were created with the goal of encouraging equal treatment under the law regardless of gender, race, or other irrelevant legal factors.

In an article by Cassia Spohn, she provides an all-inclusive review of the literature on discrimination in arrests and sentencing in America. She synthesized findings from many published studies on the subject that met three important criteria: “used data from the 1990s and 2000s presented a measure of association between racial and sentence severity and controlled for crime severity and prior record using a multivariate analytical technique” (Spohn). The range of available studies necessarily limited her analysis; 13 states, including New York, were represented during the periods covered between studies. Spohn audits how many of the comparisons of detention severity identified a statistically significant disparity by race. Nearly half of these overall measures designated that, on average, blacks receive firmer sentences than whites (about 21%) and Hispanics held more than a third of sentences.

Spohn went on to study where the most significant differences emerged through a more accurate review. She found that the differential brutality experienced by blacks and Hispanics altered significantly with “crime type, procedural factors, and legal factors.” (Spohn) Concerning violation type, blacks and Hispanics were particularly likely to be handled more severely if they were charged with a drug offense or less serious crime. Accordingly, MPV should be a superior candidate for racial disparities.

Regarding procedural factors, African Americans were handled more brutal than likewise situated whites if they were arrested before trial if a public defender represented them as opposed to a private attorney, if they were sentenced at trial rather than pleaded guilty, and if they had a more serious previous criminal record. Poor minorities often experience these procedural disadvantages. Concerning extralegal factors, blacks and Hispanics were handled more harshly than their white equivalents if they were young, male, or unemployed.

In an article by Donna Coker, she pointed out that in a Supreme Court Review  “the overwhelming empirical evidence demonstrates unjust and unequal punishment in the American criminal justice system of blacks and Hispanics and, to a lesser extent, Hispanics.” A focal point to her argument is the unbalanced representation of minorities in the US’s jails and prisons. “As of June 30, 2005, over two million people imprisoned in federal or state prison or local jails.” These numbers also included “3.2% of all black males and 1.2% of Hispanic males but a greatly smaller percentage (0.5%) of white males” (Coker). Coker denounced the extensive requirements to prove open discrimination as well as the procedural core on guidelines for “establishing guilt” rather than a center on “redressing damages.” (Coker)

Many observers have proposed charges of possible discrimination against the NYPD’s proactive law enforcement practices during the 1990s. New York reported that the “Stop-and-Frisk” program, which allowed officers to detain civilians and questioned them, sometimes even searched, disproportionately affected NYC’s blacks and Hispanics. “Hispanics comprised 24% of the residents but accounted for a third of all stops. Blacks comprised 26% of NYC’s population, and they accounted for just over half of all stops. While in sharp contrast, whites covered 43% of the population and yet only accounted for about 13% of all stops” (Coker). These numbers show that the “lawful” Stop-and-Frisk program was not lawful at all. Instead, it allowed racist bias to increase and thrive without anybody to stop it. This is why you, George Pataki, need to end this program and allow the different cultural groups not to be afraid of the police in your city.

     Nonetheless, identifying discrimination can be complicated. Any charges of prejudice in enforcement need to consider the probability of differential involvement in offending by racial. Andrew Golub’s statistics factor a substantial difference in the impact of the stop-and-frisk system. However, the NYPD countered his concerns of possible bias by recording that examining persons stopped to residents by ethnicity was inappropriate. The NYPD argued that the 85% of blacks and Hispanics were compatible with the 89% crime rate at which victims described their attackers as black or Hispanic. So, they proposed that blacks and Hispanics are more highly included inside the criminal justice system because they were disproportionately implicated in criminal behavior.

We should be able to test if there has been prejudice in MPV arrests. However, to do so there would have to be marijuana smokers in public, which is very unlikely to occur. An article by Katherine Beckett advanced this type of analysis. She analyzed the composition of NYC sentences with various measures of assistance based on data collected from “public treatment facilities, systematic ethnographic observation of drug markets, and needle exchanges.” (Beckett) This supported the idea that blacks and Hispanics were disproportionately portrayed among drug arrestees related with whites even after testing for their involvement in drug use and sales, in NYC. There has been one small-scale investigation of a related variety performed in NYC. A survey of 513 people found out that “more black marijuana smokers stated that they never smoked in public than their white equivalents. Hispanic respondents fell between the two” (Beckett). Nonetheless, the interpretation of findings from this NYC survey is restricted because the study did not recognize the extent that blacks were more likely to smoke pot at all and because the representativeness of the sample of marijuana smokers viewed has not been settled.

This checks whether there has been a disparity in MPV arrests by comparing the racial composition of MPV detainees with both the general population of New York City and arrestees for other types of crimes. The first example parallels the analysis of “stop-and-frisk” by identifying whether blacks and Hispanics have been overrepresented according to their where they live. The second example compares the analysis of stop-and-frisk by the NYPD and suggests the extent that any racial disparity might have been due to differential involvement in criminal activity.

An older study by Andrew Golub found out that blacks and Hispanics were highly represented among a sample of 195 arrestees apprehended in NYC in 1999 for various possible QOL offenses, including fare beating, trespassing, and MPV. “Nearly all of the quality of life arrestees were either black (64%) or Hispanic (26%)” (Golub). These numbers just come to show that NYPD is targeting African Americans and Hispanics. However, this representation among QOL arrests was related to their representation between a sample of 265 arrestees arrested for more critical crimes. He also examined preceding records to measure whether the quality of life policing had widened for arrest. Net widening would have been allowed if there were considerably more first-time arrestees among quality of life arrestees than arrestees of severe crimes. However, he found that the percentage of Quality of Life arrestees without a previous arrest was minimal and similar to the percentage of detainees for more severe crimes without a previous record. Based on the conclusions, he decided that “QOL enforcement likely had not widened the net for arrest but had increased the number of cases under which any predominate minority community was arrested and detained.” (Golub) Discrimination can occur at each point in the criminal justice system, while the NYPD may or may not be to blame there still is a discrepancy in racial bias towards marijuana-related arrests.


Addressing racial disparities may be a worthwhile goal for not only New York City but all cities, even if discrimination cannot be explained or even if it perhaps seems not to exist. Reducing inequalities increases our overall level of justice and benefits minorities productive lives, many of whom are impoverished, even if there are perpetrators inside the criminal justice system who misuse their power and go unpunished. With all this said George Pataki needs to look into the racially biased law system in New York City and weed out the indicators of racism to end the feud between police and the residing citizens.


  • “The War on Marijuana in Black and White.” American Civil Liberties Union, Aclu,
  • Challenge to new King County youth jail dismissed, but ….
  • Coker, Donna. “Foreword: addressing the real world of racial injustice in the criminal justice system.” Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology, Summer 2003, p. 827+. Academic OneFile, Accessed 5 Nov. 2018.
  • Mitchell, Katharyne, and Katherine Beckett. “Securing the global city: crime, consulting, risk, and ratings in the production of urban space.” Indiana Journal of Global Legal Studies, vol. 15, no. 1, 2008, p. 75+. Academic OneFile, Accessed 4 Nov. 2018.
  • Spohn, Cassia. “The effects of the offender’s race, ethnicity, and sex on federal sentencing outcomes in the guidelines era.” Law and Contemporary Problems, Winter 2013, p. 75+. Academic OneFile, Accessed 4 Nov. 2018
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