“Black Are Singled Out for Marijuana Arrests, Federal Data Suggests”

Roger Clegg, Center for Equal Opportunity, June 11, 2013

“Black Are Singled Out for Marijuana Arrests, Federal Data Suggests”:  So reads a headline in last Tuesday’s New York Times. The message of the article (which draws on a report released last week by the ACLU) is that blacks and whites use marijuana at the same rates but blacks are more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession, so therefore discrimination must be afoot.

A few problems here (besides the fact that the headline should read “Data Suggest” rather than “Data Suggests”) : First, it is frequently claimed that this group uses a drug at the same rate as another group, but it is also frequently the case that the data—which obviously have to be taken with a grain of salt in this context anyhow—don’t bear this out (not to mention the fact that there’s a difference between counting those who have ever used a drug versus, say, having used it in the last week). On this first point, though, I’m willing to give the current report the benefit of the doubt.

But, second, even if two groups use marijuana at the same rate, that doesn’t mean we should expect arrest rates to be the same, and on this point the report, as I read it, is faulty. Indeed, the report implicitly acknowledges its limitations in this regard: “A more scholarly analysis would . . . control for a set of time-varying explanatory variables, such as total drug arrests and drug use, to test whether the coefficient on the race variable is statistically significant. Ideally, the multivariate regression analysis would also control for individual characteristics of each arrest, such as amount of marijuana possessed and the age and criminal history record of the individual arrested . . .”

For instance, the police are more likely to be interested in sellers than personal users; accordingly, if one group is more likely than another to be involved in sales, it is more likely to see arrests. Likewise, people who buy or sell a drug in open-air markets are more likely to attract police attention than those who sell drugs more discreetly. And I think this makes perfect sense and has nothing to do with discrimination: Not only is it easier to make arrests in this context, but there are fewer privacy concerns and such markets are especially objectionable to the law-abiding folks who find them in their neighborhoods. If the police ignored them, no doubt they would be called racist for that.

My point here is not to defend the marijuana laws and the way they are enforced, but to note that this report doesn’t make the case that there is racist policing.

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  • First, it is frequently claimed that this group uses a drug at the same rate as another group

    Which mostly relies on self-reporting, and we all know how honest blacks are about themselves. This is why I still don’t buy the notion that underage whites use alcohol more than underage blacks, (a debate yours truly had with Jared Taylor himself in this very medium awhile back), because that stat relies on self-report.

  • bigone4u

    Any difference that reflects unfavorably on blacks or other minorities will be blamed on racism, even when there are valid alternate explanations. This analysis will get nowhere near the attention the original NY Times piece got. This is one example of instances in which an economist like Steven Levitt of Freakonomics fame can actually do the scholarly analysis called for and disprove the claim of racism.

  • The__Bobster


    Okay, let’s point out two obvious aspects that this article is completely oblivious to:

    First, whether or not blacks are more likely to be drug consumers (the notion of racial equality in consumption is based on surveys that ask people if they break the law), blacks are more likely, on average, to be drug dealers. And you are more likely to get arrested for drug possession if you are a dealer than a user.

    That’s why states with particularly law-abiding whites (such as the upper midwest and the District of Columbia) have the highest black to white arrest and imprisonment ratios.

    Second, arresting somebody for marijuana possession is a way for cops to get people they don’t like off the street for a few hours. Fo example, a woman calls 911 to say her boyfriend punched her. The cops show up and she has a black eye, but claims she hit her face on the doorknob. The boyfriend, who is obviously a chronic user, looks like he might hit her again as soon as the cops leave, but she swears she was never hit in the first place. So, the cops pat him down, find his hash pipe and haul him off downtown to cool his heels.

    You can generalize this to the whole No Snitching black drug-dealer culture of the inner cities. Gangstas can intimidate eyewitnesses in their neighborhoods, but they have a hard time intimidating forensic chemists. So, drug possession arrests become a proxy for “serious felony crimes.”

    None of this should be new to the NYT. But it is.

  • WowReally

    White kid from the suburbs smoking weed: laughs, orders Domino’s and stares at the refrigerator giggling for an hour with his friends.

    Black kid from the inner city smoking weed: robs drug dealers for more weed, has the intent to sell, likely also sells hard drugs like cocaine.

    There’s the difference. It’s not so much that they smoke weed that’s bad, it’s the fact that they have a much worse track record selling it and finding trouble.

    • OlderWoman

      In Nashville, the black kid’s family would tell people that he is an ‘entrepreneur’. He’d also sell bootleg cd’s and womens ‘designer’ purse knockoffs.

      • WowReally

        And have an illegal gun.

    • sbuffalonative

      Right. We need to know all the associated variables surrounding these arrests.

  • newscomments70

    I was once working out an inner city gym, casually conversing with a black male. He told me that he wanted to find a nice, decent girlfriend (black). He claimed that he was focused on career, fitness, church, education, etc. I thought that was good, certainly nothing wrong with that. He then made a statement I found shocking and strange. He claimed, “And I don’t smoke weed.” And he added, as if I knew, “you know what happens when you with a group of guys smoking weed…” I was trying to think of what he meant. My thoughts were: wasting time watching TV, driving under the influence, acting foolish. He continued, “Before you know it, you’re in a car with a group of guys, on the way to rob a liquor store.” I honestly have never thought about robbing a liquor store, but different cultures have different norms. Violent criminal behavior is normal in black neighborhoods. We already knew that, but it is shocking how nonchalant they are about it.

    • Maybe it’s an “In Vino Veritas” sort of thing. Just as being drunk
      makes you a more “you-y” version of of yourself than when you’re sober,
      maybe weed does the same thing. With whites, weed makes them act more
      goofy because they are already somewhat goofy to begin with; with
      blacks, it makes the more criminally inclined because they’re criminally
      inclined to begin with.

      • Nathanwartooth

        Smoking weed could have an entirely different effect on each race. Makes sense, since different races have different tolerances for Alcohol.

        From my own personal experience, the last thing anyone I knew who smoked weed wanted to do was go out and commit a crime. There was way too much paranoia.

        Even just going to the store to buy some munchies the cops there would freak us out.

        “Do you think they knew we were high?”

        “I dunno, let’s get out of here.”

      • Alexandra1973

        Reminds me of “Bill Cosby Himself.” He asked this guy what was so great about cocaine, and the reply was “it intensifies your personality.”

        To which Cosby replied, “Yes, but what if you’re an a**hole?”

        So it’s kinda like that?

    • Paleoconn

      Goes to show you that for some cultures, marijuana is indeed a gateway. Just like for those same cultures, let the good times roll is a dangerous motto, to quote Steve Sailer.

  • sbuffalonative

    I have to wonder if being arrested for pot was the first cause acted on by the police or if they were stopped by the police for another offense and they were found with pot in their possession.

  • Martel

    Areas with high crime levels, where blacks usually live, will have a police force more interested in random stops to search for illegal items then in areas with low ammounts of crime. A police force will also try to clean up areas by raiding areas frequented by lowlifes who will most likely have some drugs on them. If you look at crime rates, blacks should be stopped much more then whites, resulting in more arrests.

  • me

    New York Times….what an irrelevant Marxist propaganda rag! And the MSM wonders why the sales of ‘news’ magazines are at an all time low….

    • Paleoconn

      Taki calls the NYT ‘Holocaust Update’

  • Alexandra1973

    Our logic differs from theirs, though.

  • Alexandra1973

    But if YT wasn’t keeping the black folk down, they could afford new headlights and tags…. LOL