Freedom Fighter of the Month
July 2011 – Dr. Harry Levine, Ph.D.
Sociologist, Queens College, New York
By Russ Belville, NORML Outreach Coordinator
Dr. Harry Levine is a professor of sociology at Queens College at the City University of New York. Dr. Levine is our Freedom Fighter this month for the light he shines onto the incredible racial disparity in marijuana arrests in big cities. His continuing research is featured in a recent Philadelphia Weekly cover story which notes a 4-to-1 disparity of blacks-vs-whites arrested for weed in the City of Brotherly Love. He also worked with the Prop 19 campaign to show California’s racial bias in marijuana arrests.
Dr. Levine presented his report, “Marijuana Arrest Crusade: Racial Bias and Police Policy in New York City, 1997-2007,” at the 2009 NORML National Conference in Portland. “Let’s talk about race,” he said. “Young whites – 18-25 – use marijuana at much higher rates than young blacks or Latinos. A little over 50% of the people in New York City are blacks and Latinos, but about 90% of the arrests for marijuana are blacks and Latinos. Non-Hispanic whites, as the Census calls them, are about 36% of the population of New York; in 2009 they were less than 10% of the arrests.”
Dr. Levine explained how that can happen in a decrim state like New York, where possession of up to an ounce has been merely a ticketable offence since 1977. “The cops disproportionately patrol in certain neighborhoods. They do loads of ‘stop-and-frisks’. They illegally go into [suspects’] pockets or they trick [suspects] into bringing out marijuana and they make arrests.” The trick, you see, is once the marijuana is outside the pocket, it is “in public view”, which is still a misdemeanor subject to arrest in New York.
Dr. Levine’s academic work and fearless ability to speak publicly on the racial injustice of urban marijuana policing illustrates a yet another reason we must end marijuana prohibition.