At the last public hearing of the Philadelphia City Council regarding the now tabled bill 140001-A, a measure sponsored by Councilman Jim Kenney which would end the practice of mandatory custodial arrest for marijuana possession, an attorney who works with the ACLU to monitor the Philadelphia Police’s use of investigative stops, searches commonly called “stop and frisks,” testified before the Committee on Law and Government about the connection between petty marijuana arrests and racially disparate interaction with police.
Councilman Kenney described to the committee how in every district, irrespective of the racial demographics, blacks are the overwhelming majority of those arrested for possessing small amounts of marijuana. Paul Messing, an attorney who monitors the Philadelphia Police and provides reports to the court according to terms set out in the 2011 consent decree known as the Bailey Agreement, gave testimony further highlighting the color lines in both marijuana arrests and “stop and frisk” incidents.
Messing, in response to questions from committee member Councilman Dennis O’Brien about whether some of the disproportion could be attributed to “police reporting,” explains to the committee:
“In predominantly black districts, ALL of the marijuana arrests were black. In predominantly white districts, MOST marijuana arrests are black.”
Messing drove the correlation home further throughout his testimony. Among those 43% of searches conducted without probable cause, about 4% result in arrest, said Messing. Of that 4%, the majority are marijuana arrests, the majority in turn of which, as we have just heard, are of black people.