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Marijuana Arrests Deemed Discriminatory

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The arrest data for marijuana possession in Alachua County shows that the color of your skin is a key predictor of whether or not the police will make an arrest. Black Floridians in the county are 6.6 times more likely to be arrested according to reporting in the Gainesville Sun.

Arguments that the arrest rate is a simple reflection of the crime rate fail because marijuana use is about equal in the two groups. This comes from a study published by the American Civil Liberties Union which shows racial disparity in marijuana enforcement across the nation, but with some Florida counties ranking higher than the national average. Evelyn Foxx, president of the Alachua County NAACP said, “Some of this was reported through our state NAACP. It's not only marijuana. If you look at things like kids suspended from school, we rank higher than anybody else in the state, so it's not something that surprises me at all. It's obvious that it appears to be racial profiling. There is no way for it to be anything other than racial profiling.”

In other jurisdictions, most notably New Orleans, the federal government has stepped in. Under court-ordered remediation for racial profiling, New Orleans police agencies have to toe the line. Nothing of a similar nature has yet been suggested for Florida, but if the issue is framed as racial profiling, it would fall under civil rights legislation which demands equal treatment under the law, regardless of race or ethnicity.

To further study this issue, the Gainesville Police Department has received grants totaling $25,000 per year for the next two years. One additional concern is whether juveniles, especially African Americans, are being targeted for increased “contact.” Contact, in this use, means contact with police and occurs subsequent to an officer’s suspicions. Those suspicions are particularly prone to bias – in other words, it might not be just a hunch, it might be an unwarranted stereotype in play.


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