State law gives police officers authority to ticket and arrest people for offenses so low-level that they legally aren’t even crimes. Unlawful possession of marijuana, disorderly conduct, and harassment in the second degree are three such examples. Despite research showing that white and black people use marijuana at similar rates, black people are far more likely to be arrested. And offenses like disorderly conduct and harassment include such broad categories of behavior like making unreasonable noise, using obscene language in public, and intending to annoy another person, that officer bias and discretion can play a major role in who actually gets targeted for enforcement. Departments and lawmakers should regularly review and analyze enforcement data and respond to any apparent disparities.
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