View attachment 40630 TAMPA - In Pinellas and Hillsborough, two West Florida counties that encompass St. Petersburg and Tampa, black people are six times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than white people, an analysis by the Tampa Bay Times shows.
After compiling statistics from the Pinellas County clerk, St. Petersburg police, Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office and censusreporter.org, reporters from the paper were able to discern that disparities in arrests between white and black people for possession of the drug were especially high in the two counties:
These numbers mirror national studies dealing with the issue; an American Civil Liberties Union report based on FBI crime statistics and census data showed that blacks were almost four times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession nationwide. According to the Times, Pinellas and Hillsborough Counties had double that number in 2013.
The analysis suggests that much of this starts at a young age. While 117 black youths were arrested in Pinellas for misdemeanor drug possession last year, 200 white youths were arrested for the same crime. There are, however, four to five times more white youths than black youths in the area, according to census data.
St. Petersburg police Chief Tony Holloway said most of the disparity stems from the differences in drug culture -- specifically "open air drug dealing," or selling narcotics from street corners, rather than from inside homes.
Kurt Donley, chairman of the St. Petersburg NAACP's criminal justice committee, told the Times that the issue is more a matter of where police resources are being focused. "You have Eckerd College named by the Princeton Review as one of the top five pot-friendly colleges in the country. Nobody is going in there arresting wealthy white kids," he said. "If all you do is fish in a black pond, you are going to get black fish.''
Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri said that rather than race, possession arrests stem from more serious crimes such as robbery and car theft, and that he sees no evidence of targeting based on race.
Marijuana has been a topic of recent debate in Florida; medicinal legalization of the substance will be up for a vote in November.
UPI/Sept. 27, 2014
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