I’ll make this brief, because the point is brief and I’m nervous putting this out there. This morning I read this NYTimes blog post “In Subway, Activist Records Stop-and-Frisk He Says Proves Its Dark Side” which refers to the video, above (which you should watch). Stop-and-Frisk has come into broad national attention lately, with the wonderful opposition march in New York on Father’s Day. Who knows why now is the time. Perhaps Trayvon Martin’s death–and Geraldo Rivera’s response?–reignited our attention to how black bodies in hoodies are stamped with a criminal suspicion the moment they leave the house.
I don’t have that body. Police don’t stop me on the street to harass me. A few times, walking home at night in my parents’ bar-heavy neighborhood in Chicago, police have stopped to make sure I’m okay.
But more importantly, police have stopped me smoking marijuana in public in Chicago, and I was not frisked, not harassed, and never, ever arrested. The Chicago Reader reports that “marijuana is believed to be used at similar rates across racial groups, yet African-Americans account for 78 percent of those arrested, 89 percent of those convicted, and 92 percent of those jailed for low-level possession in Chicago” (Dumke and Joravsky, “How Chicago Said Yes to Pot”). I tell you my side of the story because white kids who get away with possessing pot are the invisible flip side of the injustice of criminalized marijuana. Put in other words–and in the light of the Reader’s statistics–young people of all races are getting high, but nearly only African-Americans–78% of arrests! 92% jail time!–are effectively criminalized by this criminal activity.
I remember smoking a joint in a park in what must have been the summer of 2005, when the police approached my friend and I. Caught red-handed. We put it out but the two cops saw the dead roach on the ground and picked it up. “Do you have any more?” one of them asked. “Don’t lie.”
“No,” I said.
“Let me search your bag,” he told me. I handed him my purse and, lo and behold, I’d been lying. He dumped what was left of my pathetic stash on the ground and crushed it under his shoe. “I told you not to lie,” he said. “Now I have to give you a ticket.” And he wrote me a $35 ticket for being in a city park after closing time.
If we had been black males, I have no doubt my friend and I would have been taken to jail that night. Lots of white kids smoke pot, and lots of their criminalized behavior gets noticed by the police. The difference is, we don’t get arrested for it, we don’t get put in jail, it never goes on our records. And, because Stop-and-Frisk is a racialized agenda, white kids carrying drugs (but smart enough to keep them behind closed doors) never get randomly policed and caught for possession–only people of color do.
The Reader reports that Chicago’s new marijuana law allows ticketing but doesn’t prohibit arrests.
[Roosevelt professor Kane-Willis] says she thinks the fines are too high for the poor young men most likely to be ticketed, and she worries that police won’t have any reason to stop making arrests. “My concern is that there’s no incentive to ticket,” she says. “The worst case, we end up with the tickets and the arrests. Best case: we end up moving to tickets and do something about the racial gap.”
One convoluted silver lining I see in this? Maybe, faced with budget crises, the police will take the opportunity to really ticket everyone who gets caught riding high in the Chi. And who knows what political forces will be awakened when white teens come home with $250 tickets for smoking doobies in the city’s public parks?