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Surest Way to Face Marijuana Charges in New York: Be Black or Hispanic

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They sit in courtroom pews, almost all of them young black men, waiting their turn before a New York City judge to face a charge that no longer exists in some states: possessing marijuana. They tell of smoking in a housing project hallway, or of being in a car with a friend who was smoking, or of lighting up a Black & Mild cigar the police mistake for a blunt.

There are many ways to be arrested on marijuana charges, but one pattern has remained true through years of piecemeal policy changes in New York: The primary targets are black and Hispanic people.

Across the city, black people were arrested on low-level marijuana charges at eight times the rate of white, non-Hispanic people over the past three years, The New York Times found. Hispanic people were arrested at five times the rate of white people. In Manhattan, the gap is even starker: Black people there were arrested at 15 times the rate of white people.

With crime dropping and the Police Department under pressure to justify the number of low-level arrests it makes, a senior police official recently testified to lawmakers that there was a simple reason for the racial imbalance: More residents in predominantly black and Hispanic neighborhoods were calling to complain about marijuana.
An analysis by The Times found that fact did not fully explain the racial disparity. Instead, among neighborhoods where people called about marijuana at the same rate, the police almost always made arrests at a higher rate in the area with more black residents, The Times found.

In Brooklyn, officers in the precinct covering Canarsie arrested people on marijuana possession charges at a rate more than four times as high as in the precinct that includes Greenpoint, despite residents calling 311, the city’s help line, and 911 to complain about marijuana at the same rate, police data show. The Canarsie precinct is 85 percent black. The Greenpoint precinct is 4 percent black.

In Queens, the marijuana arrest rate is more than 10 times as high in the precinct covering Queens Village as it is in precinct that serves Forest Hills. Both got marijuana complaints at the same rate, but the Queens Village precinct is just over half black, while the one covering Forest Hills has a tiny portion of black residents.

And in Manhattan, officers in a precinct covering a stretch of western Harlem make marijuana arrests at double the rate of their counterparts in a precinct covering the northern part of the Upper West Side. Both received complaints at the same rate, but the precinct covering western Harlem has double the percentage of black residents as the one that serves the Upper West Side.

The Times’s analysis, combined with interviews with defendants facing marijuana charges, lawyers and police officers, paints a picture of uneven enforcement. In some neighborhoods, officers expected by their commanders to be assertive on the streets seize on the smell of marijuana and stop people who are smoking. In others, people smoke in public without fear of an officer passing by or stopping them.

 

Black neighborhoods often contend with more violent crime, and the police often deploy extra officers there, which can lead to residents being exposed more to the police.

“More cops in neighborhoods means they’re more likely to encounter somebody smoking,” said Jeffrey Fagan, a Columbia Law School professor who also advised The Times on its marijuana-arrest analysis.

But more officers are historically assigned to black neighborhoods than would be expected based on crime rates, according to a study by Professor Fagan. And research has found “there is no good evidence” that marijuana arrests in New York City are associated with reductions in serious crime.

Officers who catch someone smoking marijuana are legally able to stop and search that person and check for open warrants. Some defense lawyers and criminologists say those searches and warrant checks are the real impetus for enforcing marijuana laws more heavily in some neighborhoods.

The analysis by The Times shows that at least some quality-of-life arrests have more to do with the Police Department’s strategies than with residents who call for help, undermining one of the arguments the police have used to defend mass enforcement of minor offenses in an era of declining serious crime.

The analysis examined how marijuana arrests were related to the marijuana-complaint rate, race, violent-crime levels, the poverty rate and homeownership data in each precinct. It also considered the borough where an arrest took place to account for different policing practices across the city. The arrests represent cases in which the most serious charge against someone was low-level marijuana possession.

Government surveys have shown that black and white people use marijuana at roughly the same rate. Marijuana smoke wafts down streets all over the city, from the brownstones in upper-middle-class areas of Manhattan to apartment buildings in working-class neighborhoods in other boroughs.

Mayor Bill de Blasio said in late 2014 that the police would largely give summonses instead of making arrests for carrying personal marijuana, and reserve arrests mainly for smoking in public. Since then, the police have arrested 17,500 people for marijuana possession on average a year, down from about 26,000 people in 2014, and issued thousands of additional summonses. Overall, arrests have dropped sharply from their recent peak of more than 50,000 during some years under Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg.

About 87 percent of those arrested in recent years have been black or Hispanic, a proportion that has remained roughly the same for decades, according to research led by Harry G. Levine, a sociology professor at Queens College.

“What you have is people smoking weed in the same places in any neighborhood in the city,” said Scott Levy, a special counsel to the criminal defense practice at the Bronx Defenders, who has studied marijuana arrests. “It’s just those neighborhoods are patrolled very, very differently. And the people in those neighborhoods are seen very differently by the police.”

Responding to The Times’s analysis, the Police Department said pockets of violent crime — and the heavier deployments that result — push up marijuana arrests in some neighborhoods. J. Peter Donald, an assistant commissioner in the department’s public information office, also said more people smoke in public in some neighborhoods than others, driving up arrests. He said 911 and 311 complaints about marijuana had increased in recent years.

 

Appearing before the City Council in February, Chief Dermot F. Shea said, “The remaining arrests that we make now are overlaid exactly in the parts of the city where we are receiving complaints from the public.” He asked, “What would you have the police do when people are calling?”

Police data do show that neighborhoods with many black and Hispanic residents tend to generate more 311 and 911 complaints about marijuana. Criminal justice reform advocates said that is not because more people are smoking marijuana in those areas. Rather, people in poor neighborhoods call the police because they are less likely to have a responsive landlord, building superintendent or co-op board member who can field their complaints.

Rory Lancman, a councilman from Queens who pressed police officials for the marijuana data at the February hearing, said with the police still arresting thousands of people for smoking amid a widespread push for reform, the police “blame it on the communities themselves because they’re the ones calling on us.”

The city’s 77 precincts, led by commanders with their own enforcement priorities, show erratic arrest patterns. In Sunset Park, Brooklyn, for example, the police made more than twice as many marijuana arrests last year as in 2016, despite receiving roughly the same number of annual complaints. And in a precinct covering a section of northwestern Harlem, arrests dropped to 90 last year from almost 700 a year earlier, even though complaints fell only slightly from one year to the next.

Criticism of marijuana arrests provided fuel for Mr. de Blasio’s campaign for mayor in 2013, when he won promising to “reverse the racial impact of low-level marijuana arrests.” The next year the new Brooklyn district attorney, Ken Thompson, defied the Police Department and said his office would stop prosecuting many low-level marijuana arrests.

Yet the disparities remain. Black and Hispanic people are the main targets of arrests even in mostly white neighborhoods. In the precinct covering the southern part of the Upper West Side, for example, white residents outnumber their black and Hispanic neighbors by six to one, yet seven out of every 10 people charged with marijuana possession in the last three years are black or Hispanic, state data show. In the precinct covering Park Slope, Brooklyn, where a fifth of the residents are black or Hispanic, three-quarters of those arrested on marijuana charges are black or Hispanic.

The question of how to address those disparities has divided Democratic politicians in New York. Cynthia Nixon, who is campaigning for the Democratic nomination for governor against Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, has vowed to legalize marijuana and clear people’s arrest records. Mr. de Blasio and Mr. Cuomo have been reluctant to support the same measures.

In Criminal Court in Brooklyn on a recent Monday, the people waiting in the crowded pews to be arraigned on marijuana charges were almost all black men. In interviews, some declined to give their full names for fear of compounding the consequences of their arrests.

They had missed work or school, sometimes losing hundreds of dollars in wages, to show up in court — often twice, because paperwork was not ready the first time. Their cases were all dismissed so long as they stayed out of trouble for a stretch, an indication of what Scott Hechinger, a senior staff lawyer and director of policy at Brooklyn Defender Services, said was the low value the court system places on such cases.

Eli, 18, said he had been smoking in a housing project hallway because his parents preferred him to keep it out of the apartment. Greg, 39, said he had not even been smoking himself, but was sitting in his car next to his wife, who he said smokes marijuana to relieve the symptoms of multiple sclerosis.

“They do it because that’s the easiest way to arrest you,” Greg said.

Rashawn Nicol, 27, said officers found his female friend holding a lit blunt on a third-floor stairwell landing in a Brooklyn housing project. They backed off arresting her once she started crying, he said, but said they needed to bring their supervisor an arrest because he had radioed over a noise complaint. “Somebody’s got to go down for this,” Mr. Nicol said an officer told him. So they let her go, but arrested him.

Several people asked why the police hound residents for small-time infractions like marijuana in more violent neighborhoods, but are slow to follow up about serious crimes. “The resources they waste for this are ridiculous,” Mr. Nicol said.

Source: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/05/13/nyregion/marijuana-arrests-nyc-race.html action=click&module=Top%20Stories&pgtype=Homepage

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Dockless bike share pilot to begin in July

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Sometimes it pays to wait. Two neighorhoods that never made it onto Citi Bike’s map will get first crack at the next generation of bike shares—the dockless bike—Mayor Bill de Blasio announced on Thursday.

A total of 12 dockless bike-share operators will take part in the pilot, which is being run by the Department of Transportation. It will begin in July in the Rockaways in Queens and Coney Island in Brooklyn. (Rockaway Beach was the scene last year of a so called rogue operation by a company, Spin, that will be taking part in the pilot program.)

Later in the summer, the program will roll out to neighborhoods in two boroughs that have never seen bike-sharing: the Bronx, in the area around Fordham University, and Staten Island, on its North Shore.

Rides will cost from $1 to $2 for 30 minutes.

Dockless operations can be launched quickly, as they do not require the installation of parking stations.

The program will include pedal-assist e-bikes. The city is currently clarifying the legal status of the bikes.

There will be a total of 200 bikes in each of the four zones. The pilot program will be assessed in the fall.

Source: http://www.crainsnewyork.com/article/20180524/TRANSPORTATION/180529930/dockless-bike-share-pilot-to-begin-in-july#utm_medium=email&utm_source=cnyb-morning10&utm_campaign=cnyb-morning10-20180525

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Embarrassment for The New York Times after failed hit piece needs four major corrections

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The New York Times issued four different corrections to an antagonistic, failed hit piece on Foundation for Defense of Democracies CEO Mark Dubowitz, who once opposed President Barack Obama’s Iran nuclear pact.

The embarrassing article falsely claimed that Dubowitz “paid himself” nearly twice as much as his think-tank peers; that the FDD is linked to Israel’s Likud Party; and that a Republican donor with financial ties to the Emirates provided $2.7 million to fund an anti-Qatar conference.

None of those things are true.

The Times issued a lengthy correction explaining that a board of directors determined Dubowitz’s compensation, which is on par with other think-tank leaders; that the FDD is not directly involved with the Likud Party; and that donor Elliott Broidy gave $360,000 for the conference.

“What’s left after the corrections is a dispatch about a think-tank exec with no genuine public-policy power who originally opposed the Iran deal, thought he could convince Trump to mend it without ending it, and is now getting flak from fever-swamp leftists who didn’t like his original opposition,” Media Research Center contributing editor Tom Blumer wrote. “Why was this even a story in the first place?”
Blumer pointed out that, in addition to the four errors, it is hard to ignore the “hostility” that Times international diplomacy reporter Gardiner Harris apparently has toward Dubowitz and the FDD. The May 13 piece headlined, “He Was a Tireless Critic of the Iran Deal. Now He Insists He Wanted to Save It,” mentions Dubowitz “wears tailored French suits and keeps his curly hair just so.”
Blumer asked, “Who except an angry, jealous, agenda-driven reporter would care about ‘tailored French suits’ and ‘keeping his curly hair just so’?”

The FDD is a non-profit group that bills itself as a non-partisan group with a “mission to promote pluralism, defend democratic values and fight the ideologies that drive terrorism.” Dubowitz, the group’s leader, was a robust adversary of Obama’s Iran nuclear deal back in 2015 but tried to save portions of it before President Trump announced that the United States would pull out. Harris apparently isn’t a fan of Dubowitz’s evolving position, as he attacked the FDD leader with a plethora of misinformation.

MRC’s Blumer wrote that the piece is “uniquely embarrassing” because of the “sheer volume” of embarrassing gaffes in addition to “how easy it should have been for his editors to catch them.”

The entire correction states: “An article on Monday about Mark Dubowitz, the chief executive of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, and his perspective on nuclear negotiations with Iran referred imprecisely to Mr. Dubowitz’s salary as compared with those of leaders of other Washington think tanks. Mr. Dubowitz’s $560,221 compensation in 2016 was determined by the foundation’s board of directors and is commensurate with the average annual salary of other think-tank leaders in Washington in recent years. It is not nearly twice as much as the salaries of his counterparts. The article also inaccurately linked the foundation to Israel’s Likud party. While the think tank does align with some of Likud’s positions, it is not directly involved with the party. The article also referred imprecisely to the funding of conferences held by the foundation and the Hudson Institute. While Elliott Broidy provided $2.7 million in funds for consulting, marketing and other services, the foundation says it received only $360,000 from Mr. Broidy for one conference.”

Source: http://www.foxnews.com/entertainment/2018/05/22/embarrassment-for-new-york-times-after-failed-hit-piece-needs-four-major-corrections.html

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Family fears worst after cash-strapped cabbied goes missing

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Family and friends are fearing the worst after a financially reeling cabbie left his car by the East River 10 days ago and has yet to be heard from since.

Yumain “Kenny” Chow, 56, was last seen on May 11 — and had been stressed about a $700,000 mortgage on his taxi medallion that he couldn’t pay off, say those close to him.

“He was very upset about the mortgage on his medallion and the mortgage on his house and not being able to provide for his family,” said his brother, Richard Chow.

Kenny Chow, who moved to the US from Burma when he was in his 20s, bought his medallion in 2011 when rates were at a record high and just before Uber and other rideshare app companies moved into the New York City market, his brother said.

The cabbie’s loan was through Melrose Credit Union, a company that is under federal receivership and has become known for its aggressive tactics against its borrowers.

At least four for-hire drivers have committed suicide in the past six months.

Cabbies blame the city for allowing app-based ride services such as Uber and Lyft to expand unchecked and gobble up traditional drivers’ customers — which has led to desperation among drivers.

“It’s such a sign of the times,” said New York Taxi Workers Alliance Executive Director Bhairavi Desai. “In years past, if a driver was missing, you’d fear murder or assault, now you fear suicide. There is such a dark cloud over them. Every day, drivers are struggling with poverty, and each day the future looks bleaker.”

Chow and his wife were in such dire financial straights that they couldn’t pay for their daughter to go to college and she had to return home, said friend and fellow cab driver Johnny Ho. And Chow’s wife was recently diagnosed with cancer.

His car was found on 86th Street and East End Avenue, which is just a block from the East River.

Cops confirmed that Chow’s family filed a missing-person report May 12 and that they found his vehicle but no sign of the cabbie.

Source: https://nypost.com/2018/05/21/family-fears-worst-after-cash-strapped-cabbie-goes-missing/

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