An 18-year-old teenager, Ramarley Graham, was killed in his home in the Bronx last week by plainclothes cops. A member of the narcotics unit shot the unarmed teenager in his bathroom.
While details of the tragedy are still unfolding, it appears that the teen had a small amount of marijuana on him, so walked home to get away from the cops because he didn't want to be arrested. The cops followed him, broke into his home and killed him in his bathroom while he was trying to flush a small amount of marijuana down the toilet. The police officer who shot Graham said he believed the young man had a gun. He did not -- no weapons were found.
The bottom line is that an 18-year-old is dead because of the insane marijuana arrest crusade by the NYPD.
Graham's family and the community are righteously demanding justice. There was a passionate gathering of hundreds of people outside the 47th Precinct station in the Bronx last night, where they condemned police violence and the almost-routine killings of unarmed men like Mr. Graham. Graham's sister is quoted in the New York Times, saying, "This is not just about Ramarley. This is about all young black men."
Incidentally, just the day before the tragic killing, the New York City media was buzzing about the 2011 marijuana arrest numbers. There were more than 50,000 marijuana arrests in 2011, the second-most in NYC history and the most in more than a decade. The NYPD bust more people for small amounts of marijuana than any other crime in the city. And these 50,000 arrests are overwhelmingly young black and Latino men -- even though, according to the government's own data, they are no more likely to use or sell marijuana than young whites.
The amazing thing is that 7/8 of an ounce of marijuana is decriminalized -- if police find marijuana in your belongings, they're supposed to just give you a ticket, instead of arresting you, unless the marijuana is being smoked or in "public view." So if under an ounce is supposed to not lead to arrest, why are 50,000 arrests happening a year? Because the NYPD stops and frisks more than 600,000 people -- mostly young black and brown men -- and then tricks them into emptying their pockets. And when marijuana is then pulled out, the police arrest them for marijuana in "public view."
There has been a big campaign by the Drug Policy Alliance, Institute for Juvenile Justice Reform and Alternatives (IJJRA), and VOCAL-NY slamming the NYPD for these illegal arrests. In September it seemed like the campaign had reached a breakthrough when Police Commissioner Kelly ordered his police to stop making improper marijuana arrests. Last week's news about the 2011 statistics, however, shows that the commissioner's order has not stopped these arrests -- and New York City remains the marijuana arrest capital of the world.
Getting arrested for marijuana is no small matter -- not least because it creates a permanent criminal record that can easily be found on the Internet by employers, landlords, schools, credit agencies, licensing boards and banks.
And if these 50,000 arrests a year are not destructive enough, we have an 18-year-old teenager who is dead, killed by the NYPD looking to make another small bust for marijuana. No one has ever died from smoking marijuana. But the war on marijuana has taken way too many lives.
Tony Newman is the director of media relations at the Drug Policy Alliance.
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