ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) – Black people in Brooklyn and Manhattan are almost 10 times more likely than white people to be arrested on low-level marijuana possession charges, and similar racial disparities can be seen around the largest cities in upstate New York, a civil rights group charged Thursday.
The New York Civil Liberties Union analysis of statewide low-level arrests and summonses for violations and misdemeanors from 2010 came two days after its parent organization, the American Civil Liberties Union, reported that blacks nationwide face marijuana arrests more than whites even though marijuana use by both races is similar.
The New York group analyzed information including FBI crime and census data to conclude that blacks statewide were almost five times more likely to be arrested on low-level marijuana charges.
"This is about a law enforcement policy that targets people of color for behavior that white people can get away with, and there's something fundamentally wrong with that,'' said NYCLU executive director Donna Lieberman, who claims the arrests are a waste of public resources.
Blacks were more than four times more likely than whites to be arrested for marijuana in each of the five boroughs of New York City.
In upstate New York, blacks were more than seven times more likely to be arrested in Onondaga County, which includes Syracuse; more than six times more likely in Monroe County, which includes Rochester; and more than five times more likely in Erie County, which includes Buffalo, the NYCLU report says.
Police disputed the notion that black people were being targeted.
In New York City, police spokesman Paul Browne said marijuana arrests were down 32 percent this year on top of a 22 percent decline last year. He said while police enforce the law everywhere, enforcement is more focused in poor neighborhoods with the most violent crime.
"Leave it to Donna to worry about minority pot smokers and not the blacks and Hispanics shot and killed in grossly disproportionate numbers each year,'' Browne said in an email.
Richard Carey, deputy director of the New York State Association Chiefs of Police, said he had not seen the report but the group was not aware of any targeting by any force in the state.
New York state leads the nation in marijuana arrests with 103,698 in 2010, according to the NYCLU.