A few days ago, [my brother] told me a story about how he was driving in his neighborhood, and was pulled over for driving 30 mph in a 25 mph zone. Not content to give him a ticket and send him on his way, the officer took him out of the car, handcuffed him, and made him wait in the back of his squad car until he was satisfied he could not arrest him for anything. [He] was not charged with anything, but he was given a ticket for speeding. As a means to protest this treatment, [he] went to court to fight the ticket. The docket ahead of him was very full, and [he] noticed something striking: Almost everyone ahead of him was black.
Racism in criminal prosecution is not a new thing. It has been part of the fabric of America since the beginning, and it is a significant contributor to generational poverty in the black community. When we were growing up, Mom and Dad were always very aware of police while we were driving. If my mom would see a police car, she would utter a coded message to my dad and he would do his best to blend in and be inconspicuous. The fact he was arrested multiple times for "Driving While Black" probably had a lot to do with it.
I-502 seeks to decriminalize marijuana sales, and I am prepared to agree that it will not improve society to make marijuana more widely available. In fact, I think it will be bad for society to encourage more drug use.
But here are the facts:
- Seattle has one of the highest rates of racial disparity in drug arrests in the United States. Blacks drug arrest rate is 13 times higher, even though there are more white drug users in Washington State than there are black people in Washington State.
- On drug offenses alone, 3.5 times as many blacks are imprisoned as whites in Washington State.
- Prosecutors are 75% less likely to recommend alternative sentences for black defendants than for similarly situated white defendants.
- Black drivers are 2.5 times more likely to be searched than white drivers.
When you are arrested and convicted, your future prospects and potential income are dramatically reduced for the rest of your life. A recent Princeton study found that the chances of getting a job as a black person with a criminal record are vanishingly small, although they found that if you are a white person with a criminal record, you have a better chance of getting a job than a black person without one. This is borne out in the black unemployment rate, which has been double white unemployment for decades, and today is 14.4%.
I think every one of us would agree we want to end generational poverty and institutional racism. I think we are also concerned about problem drug use.
The question is - Will the potential, theoretical problems of increased drug liberalization be so much worse than the problem the black community faces right now, and has lived with for generations?
I urge you - Support I-502, and take advantage of a rare opportunity to apply a potent corrective to a horrible social problem, and the terrible injustice of unequal law enforcement. Please feel free to forward this to anyone and everyone, and please be sure to vote. Also, if you want to know more about racial inequality in law enforcement in Washington State, this report is very well-researched, and comprehensive: http://www.law.washington.
edu/About/RaceTaskForce/ preliminary_report_race_ criminal_justice_030111.pdf
Love you all,