African Americans make up slightly more than 50 percent of the Washington, D.C., population, but they account for almost 80 percent of arrests in the city, and nine out of 10 drug arrests, according to a study by a group of civil rights lawyers.
The report notes that drug arrests were particularly high among African Americans, even though evidence shows that blacks are no more likely to use drugs than whites.
"Even when an arrest does not result in a conviction, the arrest itself can have lasting impacts on an individual’s ability to return to school, get and keep a job, find housing, and maintain his or her social and economic standing," wrote the Washington Lawyers’ Committee.
The group also notes that the arrests place a unnecessary burden on taxpayers by forcing the criminal justice system to process "tens of thousands of people for behaviors that might be handled in a way less costly to the system and less destructive."
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The new study comes as concerns mount over racial disparities in arrests around the country, especially for non-violent drug crimes. Early this year, the American Civil Liberties Union reported that African Americans are nearly four times as likely as whites to be arrested for marijuana crimes, despite similar usage rates. According to the ACLU, that gap has widened in the last decade, even as support for the decriminalization of marijuana has grown.
Last month, in a special report on marijuana arrests in Washington, D.C., the ACLU found that the local arrest rate for marijuana crimes among blacks jumped from 521 per 100,000 people in 2002 to 716 per 100,000 people in 2010.