Racial disparity in cannabis arrests continues in Albany, despite statewide decriminalization and the district announcing it would cease prosecuting cases.
Black people make up less than 30% of the people living in Albany, New York, but a recent report shows they constitute 97% of the cannabis-related arrests in the state’s capital. Though about 54% of Albany residents are white, according to U.S. Census data, only four people arrested for cannabis charges between July 2019 and June 2020 were white. And out of a total of 134 marijuana-related offenses that resulted in tickets or arrests, nearly 60% of the citations were for possession only.
A study by the American Civil Liberties Union earlier this year showed white and Black Americans consume cannabis at similar rates. However, black Americans were almost four times as likely to be arrested for cannabis possession.
These disproportionate arrest figures follow similar patterns across New York. Nearly 80% of Buffalo cannabis arrests targeted Black residents in 2017, though they make up less than 40% of the population. In New York City, Black and Latinx residents accounted for 94% of all low-level cannabis arrests last year.
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The Albany cannabis arrest numbers from this year represent an effort to improve racial profiling by the city’s police department. A lawyer from the New York Civil Liberties Union last year published a report showing similar disproportionate figures between Black and white residents. According to the Albany Times Union, Police Chief Eric Hawkins vowed to dig into these racial disparities and explore how the department could reverse possible biases.
Hawkins shifted the blame on the coronavirus pandemic, telling reporters the department needed to focus its resources and attention to preventing the disease’s spread. Last year, Gov. Andrew Cuomo issued a mandate that will force local departments like Albany’s to realize police reform initiatives. If they do not, they could lose stand funding.
“The city of Albany Police Reform Collaborative will be undertaking a comprehensive review of the Albany Police Department data associated with arrests by race, gender, and other demographics, and we look forward to having a robust community discussion around these statistics,” Albany Mayor Kathy Sheehan said in an emailed statement.
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New York decriminalized cannabis possession of less than two ounces last year. District Attorney David Soares added his office would no longer pursue cases where minor cannabis possession was the only charge and the Sheriff’s Department said it would stop issuing those tickets. But the Albany police department did not stop making arrests.
“We’re not stopping young men in the community and writing them minor possession of marijuana tickets, it’s just not happening,” Hawkins told the Times Union. “I’m not seeing that these young men are being targeted but it’s concerning to me that that they are the ones who are impacted by this.”