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Race & Justice News: Blacks Disproportionately Arrested for Marijuana in Alabama

October 30, 2018
Blacks in Alabama were four times as likely to be arrested for marijuana possession in 2016 as whites, L.A. County deputies disproportionately stop Latinos to find drugs, and more in Race & Justice News.

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L.A. County Deputies Disproportionately Stop Latinos to Find Drugs

Over two-thirds of drivers pulled over by a Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department team looking for drugs on a freeway stretch known as the Grapevine were Latino, according to a Los Angeles Times analysis of over 9,000 of the team’s stops between 2012 and 2017. Yet Latinos comprised just 40% of drivers stopped by the California Highway Patrol for traffic violations on the same section of freeway. In addition, the Sheriff’s Department team searched the vehicles of two-thirds of Latinos that they pulled over, compared to less than half the vehicles of other drivers. The team did not find drugs or other illegal items in Latinos’ vehicles at a significantly higher rate than those of black or white drivers.

The Sheriff’s Department denied that racial profiling played a role in their deputies’ work but Sheriff Jim McDonnell said he would work with the county’s inspector general “to examine any issues of concern.” Deputy John Leitelt, who works this route, explained: “I’m not looking for people from Mexico — not at all…I’m looking for people who are driving a certain way,” such as at or below the speed limit and then hitting the brakes when seeing a police cruiser. Orange, Riverside, and San Bernardino counties’ sheriff’s departments have similar highway enforcement teams but either did not collect or share data on the racial breakdown of their stops.

Blacks Arrested for Marijuana Possession in Alabama at Four Times the Rate of Whites

Blacks in Alabama were four times as likely to be arrested for marijuana possession in 2016 as whites, according to a report from the Alabama Appleseed Center for Law & Justice and the Southern Poverty Law Center, reports. Arrests for marijuana possession, of which there were over 2,000 in 2016, can have significant and lasting consequences which disproportionately impact African Americans even though blacks and whites use marijuana at similar rates.

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Having a pending felony marijuana charge forced Kiasha Hughes to delay her dream of working in health care. Instead, she works the third shift at the poultry plant, deboning chicken while her children spend their nights at a childcare facility. Photo by Kristie Eiland.

The report noted that the demand for drug sample tests at the Alabama Department of Forensic Sciences has resulted in a backlog of forensic evidence analyses in all criminal cases, as resources have been diverted away from the Forensic Biology/DNA lab. “Alabama’s war on marijuana is a monumental waste of tax dollars, undermines public safety, and is enforced with a staggering racial bias,” said Frank Knaack, executive director of Alabama Appleseed. Alabama Appleseed and the SPLC recommend the state legalize marijuana or reclassify its possession and personal use as a civil offense.

Federal Data on Racial Disparities in Police Contact

Police officers were more likely to stop black and Hispanic drivers than white drivers nationwide in 2015 and were over twice as likely to threaten or use physical force against blacks and Hispanics that they stopped compared to whites, according to a new report from the Bureau of Justice Statistics. Although police initiated contact with 8 million fewer people in 2015 compared to 2011, 9.8% of blacks over age 16 experienced the most common type of police contact, traffic stops, compared to 8.6% of Hispanics and 7.6% of whites in the same age group. Blacks also experienced a higher rate of street stops compared to whites and Hispanics. The report uncovered further racial disparities in resident-initiated police contact, with blacks and Hispanics having been less likely than whites to reach out to law enforcement to report a crime or non-crime emergency, or to seek help.

Washington State Supreme Court Eliminates ‘Racially Biased’ Death Penalty

The Washington state Supreme Court unanimously overturned the state’s death penalty, ruling it as “racially biased” and unconstitutional, reports The Washington Post. “The death penalty is invalid because it is imposed in an arbitrary and racially biased manner,” the justices wrote.

This opinion heavily relied on research from University of Washington professor Katherine Beckett and lecturer Heather Evans, which found that black defendants were four and a half times more likely to receive the death penalty compared to similarly situated non-black defendants, after controlling for relevant case characteristics.

Washington is now the 20th state to abolish capital punishment, with the state having already frozen its death penalty under a moratorium by Gov. Jay Inslee in 2014. The state currently has eight people on death row whose sentences will be converted to life without parole following the court’s decision.

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