Monday, June 04, 2012

A Sensible Proposal

Andrew Cuomo has not exactly had the worst term in office of any first term governor...he did get gay marriage passed, after all, which is both a progressive coup as well as a logistical one...but as a former state attorney general, he has shown a mean streak about crime and punishment.

Wading into the debate over stop-and-frisk police tactics, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo plans to ask legislators on Monday for a change in New York State law that would drastically reduce the number of people who could be arrested for marijuana possession as a result of police stops.

Here's the deal: during Mayor Giuliani's tenure, a political philosophy was applied to police tactics. Called "Broken Windows," it assumed that by cracking down and arresting people for minor crimes like turnstile jumping or possession of a joint, a message would be sent that crime would not be tolerated, thus discouraging larger crimes.

Did it work? It's a quaint notion to believe it did and it may have had some small positive impact on the level of crime in the 1990s in NYC.

During the first half of the '00s, NYPD commissioner Ray Kelly applied this theory more broadly. Rather than spot a crime, he went out of his way to find them, insituting the "stop and frisk" practice where police would pull over a person for the crime of being Latino or black, and pat them down, then if they were carrying anything illegal or could be shown to be implicated in an unsolved crime, arrest them.

Nice, huh? The average percentage of people who were innocent of anything hovered around 87% over the past ten years. Some white people were stopped, of course, and ironically white people were arrested and/or issued summonses about twice as often as blacks and Latinos. Representing about 11% of the stops while representing two-thirds of the criminal outcomes, you'd think cops would focus on more whites as the years progressed, but not so.

Many of the crimes involved the possession of small amounts of marijuana which, despite its alleged "decriminalized" status in New York-- it merely means possession of pot has been bifurcated from drug possession laws-- is an offense, which results in a ticket.

If it's the only crime of which the offender is cited. Or, more relevant, his first arrest and conviction. After that, Katie bar the door.

Needless to say, possession of even a joint in those circumstances make you a repeat offender and even though it's considered a violation and dismissed the first time, the next time a possessor will face a judge. And then it becomes either a good lawyer or a conviction. A criminal record and all that implies.

Bleak prospects for a young minority youth in a city like New York. You can't get a job easily with a criminal record, you will always have a handicap in terms of income and housing and god knows what happens to you in jail.

It's not marijuana that's a gateway drug; it's being arrested for possession that is the gateway.

Cuomo's idea, to completely decriminalize possession of small amounts of pot, makes a lot of sense. This is legislation who's time has long come.