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Despite de Blasio’s Promise, Marijuana Arrests Persist in New York
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Louis Proyect
2014-10-22 14:34:44 UTC
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NY Times, Oct. 22 2014
Despite de Blasio?s Promise, Marijuana Arrests Persist in New York
About New York
By JIM DWYER

With a summons for marijuana possession to settle, Anthony was waiting
outside the courthouse in Kew Gardens, Queens, when the doors opened at
9 on Tuesday morning.

That summons had frozen his life since a police officer handed it to him
on a Saturday evening in August. He immediately lost a job that he had
held for seven years as a school bus driver. It had already cost him
close to $7,000 in lost wages.

For this account, Anthony, 28, asked that only his first name be used,
because he has never before had any trouble with the police, and wants
to go back to work.

When Bill de Blasio was running for mayor last year, he noted that
marijuana arrests, which fall most heavily on black and Latino males,
?have disastrous consequences,? and pledged to curtail the practice of
ratcheting up what should be a minor violation of the law into a
misdemeanor.

This week, a report showed that such arrests were continuing at about
the same pace as last year; the de Blasio mayoralty had not appreciably
changed the number of such cases. The Legal Aid Society has a roster of
clients across the city who face misdemeanor charges for possession of
minuscule amounts of pot because, it was charged, they were ?openly
displaying? it. About 75 percent of those charged had no prior criminal
convictions, and more than 80 percent were black or Latino, according to
the report, from the Marijuana Arrest Research Project and the Drug
Policy Alliance.

The case of Anthony, a black man, is a powerful illustration of how
disruptive such a charge can be. On Aug. 16, he said, he was getting a
ride to his home in Jamaica, Queens, after a few hours in a park. ?I
wasn?t even in the car 10 minutes,? he said. ?We got pulled over on
Sutphin and Rockaway Boulevard. They said it was a brake light. Asked
for the usual, license and registration. Mind you, I?m the passenger,
I?m not thinking about it.?

The driver was ordered out of the car and searched. Then Anthony was
told to get out. A moment later, an officer rooted around in the car, he
said, and both men were handcuffed.

?He said it was a weed pipe in the center console,? Anthony said. ?I
said: ?Why am I getting arrested? I?m just the passenger.? ?

Anyone in a car where contraband is found can be charged with
possession, said Marquita Johnson, a staff attorney with the Legal Aid
Society who is representing Anthony.

In a formal complaint, the officer said he ?recovered a marijuana pipe
containing marijuana residue from the center console of said vehicle.?

Such a tiny amount of pot, if that?s what was actually in the pipe,
would normally be considered a violation. But it was elevated to a
misdemeanor by the police officer?s statement that the pipe was ?in a
public place open to public view.?

Perhaps that is true, though one wonders why anyone, being pulled over
by the police, would not close a center console if the pot pipe really
had been visible. Anthony insisted that he would never have gotten in
the car had he known it was there.

?I don?t involve myself around that,? he said. ?I?m a working citizen.?

The police officers issued the driver and Anthony desk appearance
tickets, meaning they had to appear in court this week, more than two
months after the stop.

?I come back to work that Monday, and they said, ?We got to let you go
because you?ve been arrested and your fingerprints came back to us in
Albany,? ? Anthony said. ?They knew the date, the time. They said,
?We?ll give you your job back once you prove your innocence.? ?

Anthony puts his annual salary at about $40,000. By this week, when the
case finally went to court, Anthony was out more than two months? pay.
The driver showed up and, in a quick negotiation, pleaded guilty to a
traffic violation and agreed to pay a fine of $180. Since Anthony was
not behind the wheel, he could not make the same deal.

The district attorney?s office offered to dismiss the case in a year if
Anthony stayed out trouble. But that would mean a full year out of work.
A new offer was made: dismissal after 90 days. That would still be an
additional three months of out of work, on top of the two he had already
lost. The case was adjourned.

Asked Tuesday about the marijuana arrests, a spokesman for the mayor
offered statistics that showed a slight decrease, as opposed to the
slight increase in the report.

But there was really no difference.

?I?ve worked all my life,? Anthony said. ?This is hard to get used to.?
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