- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
A new study from the Maryland contingent of the American Civil Liberties Union shows that African-Americans were arrested for marijuana possession in St. Mary’s County at a disproportionately higher rate in St. Mary’s County than whites.
In St. Mary’s in 2010, blacks were three times as likely as whites to be arrested for marijuana possession, according to the ACLU. Black residents made up 15 percent of the county’s population, but 36 percent of all marijuana arrests, according to the report.
St. Mary’s Sheriff Tim Cameron (R) said he could not comment specifically on the ACLU report without knowing how it was compiled, but that he is not aware of any racial imbalance in arrests for marijuana possession.
Cameron said he would question whether the report looked at other charges placed against those arrested at the same time as marijuana possession.
“We look at data” to guard against racial profiling, he said, adding that his office reports traffic stop information and other data to the state annually.
“I think the stops are proportionate” to the racial makeup of St. Mary’s, Cameron said, adding that he does look for anything unusual that could signify profiling based on race. Increased patrols in certain areas of the county can also affect arrest rates, he said.
According to the sheriff’s office, deputies made 1,734 traffic stops in 2012, mostly when drivers broke a rule of the road or because of vehicle equipment failure. Of those stopped, about 29 percent were African-American drivers. That rate is almost twice the percentage of the black population in the county.
In Charles County, the study says, African-Americans are 2.11 times more likely than their white counterparts to be arrested, while they are 2.73 times more likely in Calvert and 3.09 times more likely in St. Mary’s.
Nationwide, African-Americans are about four times as likely to be arrested for marijuana possession as whites, the study says, even though marijuana use is similar. The ACLU said 14 percent of African-Americans said that they used marijuana in the preceding year and 12 percent of whites said the same.
African-Americans make up 30 percent of Maryland’s population, but 58 percent of those arrested for marijuana possession are black, according to the report, which was based on a larger study conducted by the ACLU at a national level and tracks data from 2001-2010.
The St. Mary’s chapter of the NAACP earlier this summer held an information session for residents that included tips on what to do when pulled over by police.
Wayne Scriber, past president of the local NAACP chapter and a retired state police officer, said he had not heard of any complaints regarding disproportionate marijuana arrests based on race.
He said he is aware of the dangers of profiling based on race, and had heard of reports showing unfair practices related to arrests for crack cocaine, but “I’ve never really heard marijuana mentioned,” Scriber said.
In Charles County, the study says, arrest rates for African-Americans increased by 200 percent between 2001 and 2010, compared to a 28 percent increase for whites.
Charles County Sheriff’s Office spokeswoman Diane Richardson said Wednesday that the agency declined to comment on the study’s conclusions, as there is “a lot of information” contained in its pages and they wish to review it more before making a statement.
Charles County State’s Attorney Anthony B. Covington (D) said while the data about disproportionately high arrest rates based on race is not necessarily anything new, he felt the study was conducted with an ulterior motive in mind and was thus wary of it.
“The ACLU very much has an agenda with what they’re unabashedly pursuing … and that’s the legalization of marijuana,” Covington said Wednesday. “To me this is kind of misplaced data for the agenda they have. As for the issue of arrest rates … this data is nothing new. It’s an issue all reasonable people need to discuss and address. And it’s not just marijuana … it’s all drugs. The statistics are what they are, and we need to understand the reason and do what we can to combat it.”
Covington noted that judges only deal with the incidents that come before them in court and do not actively go out seeking cases to prosecute. Rather, they rely on the prosecutors, who “have a huge responsibility to make the decision that this will be prosecuted,” Covington said. He also noted that at the state and local level, the arrest phase typically begins on the streets.
“It almost always comes down to, like everything else in life, individuals making individual decisions,” Covington said.
Janice Wilson, the president of the Charles County chapter of the NAACP, said she had seen the study and was troubled by its findings.
“It’s very concerning to me and the NAACP. I think the issue that’s no surprise to me … is young African-Americans are profiled more than their white counterparts,” Wilson said. “The NAACP has made the effort to work with local law enforcement and I think the issue here is what can be done about profiling in general. Marijuana use is so widespread across the board, but you have to wonder why the rates here are so different. I think something needs to be done to change the mind-set that African-Americans need to be watched more.”