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Friday, June 7, 2013

Under New SFPD Chief, Whites Are Now Most Arrested Group for Marijuana

Posted By on Fri, Jun 7, 2013 at 11:45 AM

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This is now San Francisco Police Chief Greg Suhr's third year on the job, so the chief is not new. He is still, however, taking a new approach to policing, or at least how policing is perceived by the public. He is very, very sensitive to how his department's work is perceived by the public, and takes initiative to engage the media (he even calls reporters personally, which is definitely new). 

So it's not surprising that he took initiative to dispute the American Civil Liberties Union's report released Tuesday that noted black people are hauled off to jail more than white people for marijuana possession. Suhr's press release Wednesday noted that misdemeanor marijuana possession arrests have plummeted, and there's no racial disparity there. 

Which is true. But if you look at felonies, something else interesting pops up: out of 311 felony arrests for cannabis in 2011, 90 arrestees were black. The majority of people popped by the man for felony pot busts in 2011? White people, with 167 arrests, according to California Department of Justice statistics.

Don't get us wrong: Arrest statistics are still skewed racially. Black people still make up a minority of San Franciscans, and make up for far more of the population arrested than they do the general population.

And racial profiling is still a very sensitive topic. It's possible that Suhr's response to the ACLU report -- which, according to the SFPD's release, caused him to "personally" review the arrest numbers from 2011 -- is in part motivated by last week's move by the NAACP to brand the case of a black off-duty SFPD officer pulled over and arrested by his co-workers as a clear indication that racial profiling is alive and well.

But back to drugs. Misdemeanor marijuana arrests have plummeted, thanks to a 2010 law signed by then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger which reduced all possession busts of less than an ounce to a $100 infraction, no more serious -- and less costly -- than a bicyclist blowing a stop sign in the Wiggle.

Drug sales are still a felony, however, as is marijuana cultivation. So anyone popped trying to sell marijuana to an undercover officer or growing a few dozen plants -- or more -- without proper medical paperwork is guaranteed a felony charge. 

In 2011, Suhr's first partial year on the job, there were 311 felony marijuana arrests, according to tallies kept by the state DOJ. Of those, 167 arrests were of white people, 90 were of black people, and 54 were "others" -- which is to say Asian people, Native Americans, Pacific Islanders, people from the Indian subcontinent, on and on. 

That's still racially skewed, as black people make up around 6 percent of San Franciscans, compared to over 40 percent for whites. But there's something else interesting: zero people classified as "Hispanic" -- the so-broad as to be inaccurate classification given to people from Central and South America, whether their ancestry is European, indigenous, or a mix of the two -- were the subject of felony pot busts under the Greg Suhr SFPD.

Cue the Cinco de Mota jokes, if you must. 

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About The Author

Chris Roberts

Chris Roberts has spent most of his adult life working in San Francisco news media, which is to say he's still a teenager in Middle American years. He has covered marijuana, drug policy, and politics for SF Weekly since 2009.


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