Protestors with signs during a silent march to end "stop-and-frisk" program in New York. During the Bloomberg administration, civil rights groups went to court to end the NYPD's use of a tactic known as "stop and frisk," which involved detaining, questioning and sometimes searching people deemed suspicious by officers. Finding marijuana was often used to justify the policy. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig, File)
Joseph Darius Jaafari was a staff writer for the PA Post. His work covering crime, the military and LGBTQ issues has been featured in The Marshall Project, Rolling Stone Magazine, The Atlantic and The New York Times. He is a graduate of the Newmark Graduate School of Journalism at CUNY, and an award-winning documentary filmmaker who has produced for VICE and The New York Post. He is a native Arizonan and infamous for his love of tacos.
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Protestors with signs during a silent march to end “stop-and-frisk” program in New York. During the Bloomberg administration, civil rights groups went to court to end the NYPD’s use of a tactic known as “stop and frisk,” which involved detaining, questioning and sometimes searching people deemed suspicious by officers. Finding marijuana was often used to justify the policy. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig, File)
At the end of June, Clarence Hines III was locked up for having 8 grams of marijuana on him and stashed in his car.
Had Hines been back home in Columbus, Ohio, police would have simply issued him a ticket. Had he been thirty miles northeast in Harrisburg, he would’ve gotten away with a small fine.
But because he was in Franklin County, Hines got a week in jail and ended up with $412 in court fines and fees.
Hines’s story, though, runs counter to what the county prosecutor Matt Fogal has said publicly about criminal justice reform and race. A few days after people marched through Chambersburg in early June, Fogal released a letter that claimed support for Blck Lives Matter protests and condemned George Floyd’s killing by police in Minneapolis.
“I encourage you to continue in this positive spirit of change and equality, and to not abandon this momentum,” he wrote in the letter. “Demand that our national and local leaders authentically confront institutional racism.”
And yet, Black defendants remain over-represented in arrests and charges. Franklin County is no different, despite Fogal’s public hat-tip to reformers.
For a story published this morning on PA Post, I reviewed six counties’ criminal charges from 2018, along with Franklin County’s 2020 charging data, and found that a quarter of all cases were against Black people, despite them making up only 6.5% of the population in the areas we looked at.
What county has the most disparity in prosecution of Black people compared to its population? Dauphin County. With Blacks comprising only 18.5% of the population, county records show that half of all marijuana possession cases were against Black people in 2018.
Harrisburg, the largest city in Dauphin county, decriminalized marijuana in small amounts in 2016. Still, dozens of people went through the court system and ended up in jail, and they were overwhelmingly Black. One woman was sentenced to a year of jail time after pleading guilty to small possession and having paraphernalia.
Criminal justice reformers say prosecutors like Fogal should end prosecutions for possession of marijuana in small amounts, calling it the single easiest way to address disparities in policing and incarceration.
“This is a first simple step to reduce citizen police encounters over something that is largely harmless and legal for millions and millions of Americans in the U.S.,” said Patrick K. Nightingale, a private defense attorney and chair of the Pittsburgh chapter of NORML, a national marijuana reform group. “As long as prosecutors maintain marijuana prohibition, we are going to consistently see systemic disparity in policing in terms of race.”
A Harrisburg police officer talks with Pennsylvania State Police Trooper Ismail El-Guemra, at right. In the background, Rabbi Elisha Friedman walks toward the officers as he describes what he saw.
Harrisburg synagogue vandalized: A Nazi symbol was discovered painted on the outside of the Kesher Israel Congregation in Harrisburg yesterday. Local police are working with Pa. State Police and the FBI to investigate. “It really means that they are trying to instill fear and they are trying to demonstrate the utmost hatred for people, and that should not be tolerated,” Kesher Israel’s Jenn Ross said of whoever is responsible. Anyone with information is urged to call the Harrisburg Police at (717) 558-6900.
USPS for sale? In yesterday’s Context, we discussed the complications of our United States Postal Service and its uncertain future impact in the 2020 general election. For years, the beleaguered department has had to adapt to competition from FedEx, UPS and now even Amazon. So, is it time to privatize it? The Inquirer’s editorial board sounds off a resounding no.
Maybe next year: The governor and health secretary said schools should delay sports for students until January next year. The reason? Data from other states that showed it’s not safe. “I understand, being a pediatrician and Adolescent Medicine Specialist, how important sports can be for kids,” said Health Secretary Rachel Levine. “How important in terms of, you know, their mental health, their physical health and for some in terms of opportunities for college, etc, but given the size and scope of this global pandemic, we, as well as many other states, and I think you’ll find more and more colleges and college leagues are going to say it’s not worth the risk to do sports this fall given COVID-19.”
College football in limbo?: The Big 10 conference, which includes powerhouse football programs like Penn State and Michigan, is reportedly on the cusp of calling off the fall season, according to multiple reports. If true, it would be the first time in the program’s nearly 130+ year history that the Nittany Lions of Penn State won’t be taking the field in the fall. According to the Centre Daily Times, players and coaches want to play: “By Monday afternoon, numerous Nittany Lion players — including tight end Pat Freiermuth and quarterback Sean Clifford — had tweeted their desire to play with the message #IWantToPlay or #WeWantToPlay. Head coach James Franklin echoed a similar sentiment.”
As a single man without kids, I don’t really have a side in the public-versus-charter school debate. But yesterday, the New York Times released their latest podcast, Nice White Parents. I’m two episodes in and it’s wild, to say the least. From the team that brought you Serial, the new podcast focuses on how a group of white parents in Brooklyn called for less segregation in their neighborhood public school. But when the time came to actually implement the policy, they opted out. But they still have a say in how the schools are run. From the top of episode one: “If you want to understand why our schools aren’t better… you have to look at white parents.” —Joseph