Communities devastated by Bloomberg’s marijuana arrest crusade need action on legalization
At the last Democratic debates, former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg got his money’s worth of much-deserved verbal lashings from fellow candidates for his policies. In an attempt to defend himself, he apologized for the broken legacy of his mayoral policies and lied about his administration’s role in its execution of stop-and-frisk. It’s not the first time he has expressed empty regret for targeting black and brown communities and the other democratic candidates were right to call him out. Community pleas to end this intensely damaging policy during his tenure as mayor consistently were ridiculed and went unheeded.
In what he thinks amounts to new understanding and atonement, Bloomberg’s criminal justice platform includes federal decriminalization and expungement for marijuana possession offences. Let’s not be fooled, his proposals are not a reversal or progress. In fact, Bloomberg is the reason we know decriminalization does not work, and is not enough. New York City has had decriminalization on its books for four decades, but became known as the marijuana arrest capital of the country as the New York Police Department made over 400,000 marijuana arrests under Bloomberg’s draconian stop-and-frisk policy. His “apologies,” better understood as lies coming years after a judge ruled stop-and-frisk unconstitutional, are late and hollow.
His administration’s NYPD needlessly threw black and Latinx people in jail — enough people to fill Yankee stadium in 2010 alone — ripped families apart at child welfare courts, disrupted housing and employment that spurred poverty and condemned immigrants to deportation.
At the height of the city-sanctioned system of racial terror, as some have referred to it, black and Latinx people were nine times more likely than a white person to be stopped by a police officer, yet only around 10 percent of stop-and-frisk stops resulted in an actual conviction. At one point, he even went so far to say the policy “disproportionately stops whites too much and minorities too little.”
The communities that were relentlessly targeted by his broken windows policing then — and continue to feel the devastating legacy of that unjust, racially motivated systemic abuse now — cannot address the damage or rebuild their neighborhoods with low bar criminal justice reform policies that don’t afford them the opportunities that full legalization will.
Even without a conviction, arrests for marijuana possession create life-long obstacles to employment, housing, student loans, professional licensing, and government benefits, and have severe immigration consequences. Arrests needlessly put parents in prison, or saw children being removed from their homes, causing irreparable ruptures in families and communities that reverberated through generations. The heavy financial toll from the marijuana arrest crusade that still persistently haunts individuals and communities was highlighted in a report that documented how the NYC neighborhoods with the highest marijuana arrest rates had the lowest economic indicators even a decade later.
To communities of color in New York still reeling from the impacts of his racist policies, Bloomberg’s “apologies” and opportunistic backpedaling from referring to marijuana legalization as “perhaps the stupidest thing anybody has ever done” to recent support for decriminalization, is a slap in the face. At best, his sudden halfway reckoning on one of the most important social justice issues in New York is insincere and weak. Bloomberg is out of touch with what communities need, and was wrong for his support of stop-and-frisk. He continues to be wrong with his opposition to full legalization and regulation of marijuana for adult use.
To this day, advocates and lawmakers have been pushing for legalizing and regulating marijuana in a way that will center equity, community reinvestment, and promote racial and economic justice — especially for the populations most affected by the marijuana arrest crusade.
Now, Bloomberg’s home state of New York is well on its way to legalizing cannabis. The Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act introduced by co-sponsors state Sen. Liz Krueger and Assembly Majority Leader Crystal Peoples-Stokes is the gold standard for legislation that can begin to undo the harms Bloomberg perpetuated and finally do right by the communities of color who were victims of his police state. It has provisions to ensure tax revenue goes directly back into those communities.
Frederique is managing director of policy of the advocacy and campaigns at the Drug Policy Action.