Jim Dwyer, who is the closest writer to Jimmy Breslin around, admitted in the New York Times to committing a crime.
Walking down Eighth Avenue a few weeks ago, I made sure my backpack was fully zipped shut. Inside was a modest stash of pot, bought just an hour or so earlier. A friend knew someone in that world, and after an introduction, then a quiet, discreet meeting, I was on my way to the subway. Never before had I walked through Midtown Manhattan with it on my person. There were four cookies in vacuum-sealed pouches — “edibles” is the technical term — and then a few pinches of what was described as “herb.”
Sure, it was Eighth Avenue, and nobody cares what happens on Eighth Avenue, but still. Fear not that Ray Kelly is busily planning the SWAT raid to rid the city of this nefarious weed runner. An admission without more won’t sustain a conviction, and he rid himself of the evidence before the column ran. Dwyer is safe.
But he had a point to make, and he made it. You see, Dwyer is an old white guy. Old white guys don’t get tossed in New York City.
More people have been arrested for marijuana possession than any other crime on the books. From 2002 through 2012, 442,000 people were charged with misdemeanors for openly displaying or burning 25 grams or less of pot.
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About 87 percent of the marijuana arrests in the Bloomberg era have been of blacks and Latinos, most of them men, and generally under the age of 25 — although surveys consistently show that whites are more likely to use it.
But, but, but, that’s not what the police keep telling us. They keep telling us they stop & frisk young black and Hispanic men because they’re the criminals. They keep telling us how they’re just going where the crime dictates. It’s not their fault, they say.
Except it’s not quite accurate. The putative purpose of throwing young black and Hispanic men against the wall, forcing them to turn out their pockets to reveal whatever was private a moment earlier to public view, is to get guns off the streets. New Yorkers hate guns, and that makes many appreciate how the police are saving us from the gun violence that plagued the City during the crack plague of the 1980s. New Yorkers also have difficulty recalling what decade we’re in.
Except stop & frisk hasn’t been very good at finding guns. It’s been much better at finding small amounts of marijuana (or marihuana, as the New York Legislature spells it). It’s been even better at turning non-criminal possession into a misdemeanor, by forcing those who possess a small quantity to take it out of their pockets and thus put it on public display. Oops. Crime! Gotcha.
When Dwyer decided to see whether he could walk down Eighth Avenue, it wasn’t just that he took the risk of being tossed. As he goes on, that’s only where it starts. It’s the ride, if not the rap, where the real pain happens:
LAST year, the Bronx Defenders, which represents poor people in criminal court, tried to have suppression hearings in 54 cases involving marijuana possession. In such hearings, the police officer would have been required to testify about the circumstances under which the marijuana was found. If it was the result of an illegal search, the judge could have barred the use of the evidence.
But not once did the hearings go forward: missing paperwork, officer’s day off, the drip, drip of wasted time. On average, each case required five court appearances, and stretched over eight months. Most of the charges were dropped or lowered to noncriminal violations.
The process itself was the punishment, and it was inflicted almost exclusively on blacks and Latinos.
While the courts, the media and, yes, even some inconsequential blawgs, argue about the trivia of related cases and Article III judges being treated horribly by their own, attention is deflected from the nastiness in the Bronx courthouse where defendants must return to court, over and over, at the expense of their jobs, their school, their lives and criminal records, to get the chance to challenge a cop seizing them for being young, male and black.
But seriously, who really cares? After all, if you’re an old white guy, you can walk pretty much anywhere in the City with pot in your backpack and never fear the police. That’s how stop & frisk works. So what’s with all the fuss?