Why in Riley County is a black person nearly 7 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than a white person?

The Manhattan-Riley County Coalition for Equal Justice are local citizens concerned that racial bias may be influencing the enforcement of drug laws in Riley County. With the help of a Kansas State University researcher, the Coalition has investigated the Riley County Police Department’s official arrests reports, submitted to the U.S. Department of Justice from 2010- 2014.* Here is what we have found.

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In the U.S. black people use marijuana at roughly the same rate as white people, according to survey research covering 2001-2010.**

Between 2010 and 2014 the RCPD intensified its enforcement of state marijuana prohibition law. In the years 2010-2014 total possession arrests rose from 80 to 176, a nearly 300% increase. In these years African-American arrests climbed from 16 to 64, an increase of 400%. Clearly the burden of this intensified enforcement has been racial unequal. In 2014 black persons in Riley County were 6.8 times more likely than white persons to be arrested for marijuana possession.

We believe our findings offer strong evidence that the Riley County Police Department is treating black persons more harshly than white persons in their decisions about who to arrest for possession of illegal drugs.

We want to know why. Is the rapid increase in marijuana racial arrest inequality from 2010 to 2014 motivated by an increase in conscious or unconscious racial discrimination by individual RCPD officers? Or does it stem from department policies, training, and institutional priorities?

This is a serious matter. Currently a person found guilty of a misdemeanor drug offense, is punishable with a fine of up to $2,500, one year in jail, or both, and there is credible evidence that many employers will reject job applicants with any drug conviction on their record.

The racial disparities we have uncovered are not unique to Riley County. A comprehensive study found that the racial inequality in arrest rates for marijuana possession was 3.7 to 1 across the country – and in Kansas 4.4 to 1. It seems likely, therefore, that this racially unequal treatment by police in our community reflects a widespread anti-black stereotype in American society, associating African Americans with drug addiction and criminal behavior.

We strongly urge the RCPD to fully investigate the causes of whatever biases, practices, or policies are causing the racially unequal treatment our research has uncovered. And we demand that the RCPD eliminate the unequal arrest rates that we have found in our city and county.

Individuals Supporting the Manhattan-Riley County Coalition for Equal Justice

Muefua Lewis, President 2015-16, K-State Black Student Union
Justice Davis, President 2014-15, K-State Black Student Union
Shaun Dowdell, President, K-State American Ethnic Studies Student Association Jeremy Briggs, K-State Department of Sociology, Anthropology, and Social Work John Exdell, Chair, Manhattan Alliance for Peace and Justice
Rev. Jonalu Johnstone , Minister, Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Manhattan Bryon Williams, Advisor to K-State Black Student Union
Rev. Rachel Williams-Glenn , Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church
Rev. Caela Simmons Wood , First Congregational United Church of Christ
Pastors Richard Gehring and Barbara Krehbiel Gehring, Manhattan Mennonite Church Rev. Paul Allen, First Christian Church, Manhattan KS
Rev. Patrick Funston, St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Manhattan KS
Edith Guffey, Conference Minister, KS-OK Conference of the United Church of Christ Rev. David A. Jones (Campus Pastor, K-State Ecumenical Christian Ministries)

*We are very grateful to Will Chernoff for his research on Riley County racial inequalities in marijuana arrests. Mr. Chernoff has a M.S. in Statistics is currently a Ph.D. student at Kansas State University. The Department of Justice Uniform Crime Reports is the source of data on white and black annual marijuana arrests. The Census Bureau’s Population Estimates Program was the source for determining the number of white and black residents in Riley County.

** American Civil Liberties Union, “The War on Marijuana in Black and White”, p. 48.

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