End the Racist Drug War in Travis County
AUSTIN (KXAN) — Four organizations that reviewed 2,900 drug possession arrests from June 2017 to May 2018 announced they found “troubling police practices that harm communities, exacerbate racial disparities in arrests and jail detention and fail to address underlying needs of people who use drugs.”
Before releasing the full report later this month, Grassroots Leadership, The Texas Harm Reduction Alliance, The Texas Criminal Justice Coalition and Civil Rights Clinic at the University of Texas School of Law revealed some key findings Tuesday from their research. [node:read-more:link]
Four groups – the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition, Texas Harm Reduction Alliance, Civil Rights Clinic at the University of Texas School of Law and Grassroots Leadership – analyzed low-level drug arrests in 2017 and 2018. Their data showed even though African Americans make up 8.9% of the county's population, they account for 29.4% of drug possession arrests.
Last week, the City released a separate report that showed Austin police are pulling over and arresting people of color at disproportionally higher rates than white drivers. City leaders told KVUE that data confirmed a problem the City has been trying to fix. [node:read-more:link]
On Tuesday afternoon (Sept. 3), Austin Police Department Assistant Chief Troy Gay had the displeasure of being the guy who had to tell everyone in a room packed with citizens, community leaders, and members of City Council's Judicial Committee exactly what they didn't want to hear: "Marijuana is still illegal under both state and federal law."
The veteran cop plainly and courteously laid out the department's stance: "APD has not increased our enforcement efforts, but we continue to cite-and-release and/or arrest as deemed necessary." The discussion of an item first outlined two weeks ago by Mayor Pro Tem Delia Garza and Council Member Greg Casar waded deeply into the muddy waters of discretionary enforcement for misdemeanor pot charges.
Since July 3, when Travis County Attorney David Escamilla and District Attorney Margaret Mooreannounced that they'd reject all possession charges until law enforcement agencies could use accredited testing to discern whether confiscated cannabis is illicit marijuana or newly legal hemp, APD has continued to cite offenders and – to some degree – make arrests. Casar takes issue with that practice. "It doesn't make any sense to me to arrest someone [if] they're not going to get prosecuted," he told the Chronicle last week, emphasizing that arrests can result in serious life complications – interrupted income, getting your vehicle impounded, and potentially losing your job.
Several citizen speakers at Tuesday's meeting brought up how these impacts are not spread equally among Austin's cannabis users. "When APD makes these arrests, who are they arresting? What does the data show?" asked Annette Price, statewide director for Grassroots Leadership's Texas Advocates for Justice. "The data shows that the majority of these arrests are still people of color." [node:read-more:link]