BY ARIEL HERNANDEZ and SAM RAPPAPORT
Southeast Queens’ elected officials held a town hall in St. Albans on Wednesday night to educate the community on why legalizing marijuana in New York City would be beneficial to Southeast Queens, which is predominantly composed of black and Latino families.
The panel included Derrick Powers, the president of the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives; Anthony Posada, a supervising attorney for the Legal Aid Society; Chris Alexander, a member of the Drug Policy Alliance; and City Council members Donovan Richards (D-Laurelton), Adrienne Adams (D-Jamaica), Rory Lancman (D-Hillcrest) and I. Daneek Miller (D-St. Albans), all of whom had recently signed a letter to Queens District Attorney Richard Brown last month calling for an end to prosecuting low-level marijuana offenses in the borough.
During the discussion, Richards stated that the 105th Precinct, which covers Queens Village, has been the top precinct in New York City for nearly a decade in both summonses and arrests for marijuana.
“No young kid should be put in jail for low-level marijuana offenses,” said Richards, stating that such of offense would follow the child for the rest of their life. “Unless there is a gang nexus tied to marijuana, there’s no reason to put people through this.”
Adams said that 80 percent of marijuana-related arrests in the city are black and Latino people.
“Why is it that communities of color continue to be targeted for theses offenses?” said Adams. “This marijuana issue is just the tip of the iceberg for us and we have a myriad of issues that must be dealt with when talking about race, but we’re going to start tonight just by talking about weed. It seems small, but it is monumental.
Where does the stigma come from that black and brown people are criminals? Our youths have been snatched up from our communities for no other reason than that they are black and brown.”
Adams said that although the NYPD told her that race was not a factor, she believed that once the issue of legalizing marijuana goes into effect, she has no doubt that there will be “another can of worms” targeting black and Latino communities.
Lancman, the chairman of the Council’s Committee on the Justice System and a member of the Committee on Criminal Justice, said that he is calling on all five of the city’s district attorneys to adopt reform policies.
“Police won’t police what prosecutors won’t prosecute,” said Lancman. “Too much of policing policy falls on the backs of black and brown people and it does so intentionally.”
Miller said that aside from marijuana-related arrests, there has been no increase in violence, crime or deterioration of public health in Southeast Queens.
“You don’t have to be pro-marijuana to be pro-marijuana reform,” said Miller. “Just admit that there’s a problem with the law being enforced differently for different people.”
Yvette Strong, an academic administrator and community resident, said that 98 percent of her students said they have been stopped by police.
“Trauma is real and mental illness is real,” said Stephanie Ellis-Gibbs, the Parent Teacher Association (PTA) president at Eagle Academy, adding that a number of students use marijuana to help with mental health issues.
“Our young people are in pain,” said Ellis-Gibbs. “If we’re talking about legalizing marijuana for health benefits, are we also going to put in a piece about mental health, because the two are tied together?”
In 2017, more than 17,000 people were arrested for low-level marijuana-related offenses in New York City, 14,530 of whom were people of color.
Southeast Queens’ 105th, 103rd and 113th precincts saw the highest rates of marijuana-related arrests between 2014 and 2016.
Reach Ariel Hernandez at (718) 357-7400, ext. 144, firstname.lastname@example.org or @reporter_ariel.
Reach reporter Sam Rappaport via email at email@example.com or by phone at (718) 357-7400, ext. 123.