A Smell of Pot and Privilege in the City
Published: July 20, 2010
The Bloomberg administration has quietly been fixing up its sons and daughters with cool summer internships, as reported Tuesday in The New York Times. Which is probably fine: It is hard to see nepotism as much of a sin when it is really just another chapter of Darwinism, the drive possessed by all creatures to finagle a better future for their offspring.
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No matter how much Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg preached about meritocracy, no one expected that the laws of nature would be repealed when he was elected.
Sure enough, a Freedom of Information Act request showed that tucked among hundreds of summer interns picked through a competitive process were dozens of the children of City Hall insiders or of Mr. Bloomberg’s friends. They reflected the mayor’s social and political circles: mostly white, many quite wealthy, coming from private high schools and Ivy League colleges.
In short, these are not residents of Stop and Frisk New York.
Mayor Bloomberg promised to lead a government that looked like the city; in reality, he leads one that looks like his mirror, an administration in which key managers are overwhelmingly white and male. It is one thing if this means the annual crop of interns is heavily salted with young Bloombergians.
It is quite another when those managers are shaping policies that wind up leading to the deprivation of liberty of people who do not look like them.
Among the biggest but least discussed expansions of government power under Mr. Bloomberg has been the explosive increase in arrests for displaying or burning marijuana.
No city in the world arrests more of its citizens for using pot than New York, according to statistics compiled by Harry G. Levine, a Queens College sociologist.
Nearly nine out of ten people charged with violating the law are black or Latino, although national surveys have shown that whites are the heaviest users of pot. Mr. Bloomberg himself acknowledged in 2001 that he had used it, and enjoyed it.
On the Upper East Side of Manhattan where the mayor lives, an average of 20 people for every 100,000 residents were arrested on the lowest-level misdemeanor pot charge in 2007, 2008 and 2009.
During those same years, the marijuana arrest rate in Brownsville, Brooklyn, was 3,109 for every 100,000 residents.
That means the chances of getting arrested on pot charges in Brownsville – and nothing else – were 150 times greater than on the Upper East Side of Manhattan.
No doubt this is, in large part, a consequence of the stop-and-frisk practices of the Police Department, which Mr. Bloomberg and his aides say have been an important tool in bringing down crime.
Nowhere in the city is that tactic used more heavily than in Brownsville. On average, the police conducted one stop and frisk a year for every one of the 14,000 people who live there, an analysis by The New York Times found. More than 99 percent of the people were not arrested or charged with any wrongdoing.
Brownsville has the highest marijuana arrest rate in the city. The top 10 precincts for marijuana arrests averaged 2,150 for every 100,000 residents; the populations in those precincts are generally 90 percent or more nonwhite.
Mr. Bloomberg’s neighborhood has the lowest rate of marijuana arrests; the 10 precincts with the lowest rates averaged 67 arrests per 100,000 residents. The population in most of those neighborhoods was 80 percent white.
A few weeks ago, Mr. Bloomberg talked about proposals that would allow marijuana to be distributed for putatively medical purposes.
He said it was a Trojan horse for complete legalization.
"I mean, the idea of medical marijuana, we all know what that means: It means everybody is going to qualify," he said. "The worst thing is the hypocrisy of saying it’s medical marijuana. If you want to legalize it, let’s have that debate, but that’s what you’re really talking about. It has nothing to do with medicine."
In truth, in New York, the debate was over before it began.
For blacks and Latinos, it is very, very illegal.
But not in Mr. Bloomberg’s neighborhood.
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