Quit Playin’: What You Smokin’?

By Vincent L. Hall 

District Attorney and longtime criminal judge, John Creuzot made an eye-opening presentation at the Community Police Oversight Board meeting. The empirical data he presented on the disproportionate number of Blacks and Browns being jailed for small amounts of marijuana, buoyed the case that the system needs an overhaul.

The limited resources of the Dallas Police Department could be better utilized by adopting some of the common-sense strategies put forward by the chief of the District Attorney’s office. Handing out citations for small amounts of marijuana is a no-brainer!

Creuzot’s aim was four-fold and easy to comprehend. This initiative examines the data as it pertains to the City of Dallas Police Department, encourages frank dialogue, fosters cohesion among elected and appointed officials, and supports fair and equitable policing.

This effort will be presented to the Dallas County Commissioner’s Court by District Three representative, John Wiley Price, not an attempt to legalize marijuana. And as quiet as it’s kept, several public servants that I have discussed the matter with are hopeful. My canvass included current and retired officers who see merit in Creuzot’s argument.

DA Creuzot further pointed to the facts as they pertain to marijuana arrest in Dallas County. Arresting and incarcerating people for possessing small amounts of marijuana does not reduce violent crime. Meanwhile, the Dallas County Criminal District Attorney’s Office (DCCDAO) shows Black, Indigenous, and People of Color are disproportionately arrested for possessing small amounts of marijuana in Dallas County.

The DCCDAO is committed to enhancing the safety of the community by prosecuting violent and repeat offenders. However, by diverting low-level offenses, we can reduce recidivism and save taxpayers’ money.

Although marijuana usage is virtually the same between Blacks and Whites, Blacks are arrested at a rate of 568/100K, while their White counterparts are arrested at a rate of 156/100K. The five-year graph shown here is as disgraceful as it is revealing.

A staggering 91 percent of minorities had cases filed against them, while only 9 percent were White. These cases require a minimum of four hours in booking and further drain already taxed DPD resources.

It is noteworthy that in 22 percent of the cases DPD presented, the package weighed more than the marijuana contents. At $217 per test, the change in policy has netted $510,000 in savings over the past 18 months. Class C Misdemeanors will save money, valuable police time, and reduce the number of confrontations on the street.

Many of the societal issues that plague policing these days are far beyond their purview and ability to address. You hear very little from this column about the efficacy or the lack thereof of the Dallas Police Department. My mama says, “if you can’t say something good, say nothing at all.” So here it is; Nothing at All!

The Dallas Police Department should consider a move toward ticketing non-violent offenders rather than placing them in a county jail system that fights this current pandemic daily to maintain the health and safety of each inmate and staff at the Lew Sterrett Justice Center.

If COVID-19 has been good for nothing else, it has forced public policymakers to re-examine what they do and how they do it. The top brass at the City Council and Dallas Police Department need to join the overwhelming majority of its citizens.

You have to be smoking something to miss a fix as simple as this one. What you smokin’?