Marijuana Consumption Is Not The Issue, Police Misconduct Is

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(image via NBC News)

Minorities have been the victim of racial profiling and police brutality for a very long time. But with the rise of social media and the internet, Americans are seeing it in graphic detail more and more. It makes my heart hurt with every story that I read. The most recent story is that of Sandra Bland. Sandra Bland was pulled over for not signaling when making a lane change as she moved over to make room for the officer to pass. After pulling Sandra Bland over, the officer became upset after asking her to put out her cigarette, and after she refused, demanded that she get out of her car.

After a verbal exchange, during which Sandra Bland asked no less than 14 times what she was being arrested for with no response from the officer, Sandra Bland was taken to jail. After three days in jail, she was found dead in her jail cell. Her death is shrouded in shadiness, leading many people to think that there was foul play involved. The discrepancies in the law enforcement side of the story are so numerous that I won't list them all in this article, but encourage readers to investigate it for themselves. I don't know exactly what happened to Sandra Bland, but I think it's fairly easy to reason that what law enforcement has claimed happened did not in fact occur the way they are claiming it did.

As if the death of Sandra Bland wasn't enough, now there is a marijuana smear campaign being waged against Ms. Bland. This is not the first time that law enforcement has tried to use the victim's marijuana consumption as a way to distract the public from focusing on the real issues at hand - police brutality and racial profiling. Sharda Sekaran from the Drug Policy Alliance recently wrote about it on DPA's blog:

Two years ago, when marijuana was brought up to smear the reputation of Trayvon Martin, I wrote "In Order to Address Racism, We Must Confront the Drug War." I said, "From clothing to intoxicants, what is normal and innocuous in another context becomes sinister when associated with black men and boys." Sandra Bland's tragic death in a Texas jail, and subsequent reports of marijuana found in her system, illustrate the same is still true, and moreover equally true for black women and girls.

Sandra Bland's death is a horrific display of how vulnerable black people in this country are at the hands of law enforcement, and how indelicately black lives are publicly scrutinized for character flaws when that vulnerability results in death.

At a news conference discussing the preliminary findings of an autopsy following Bland's alleged suicide at the Waller County Jail in Texas last week, officials placedheavy emphasis on marijuana reported to be found in the young woman's system.

Why this emphasis? What does this have to do with widespread demands for accountability around the circumstances of her death? Are we expected to believe the not so subtle insinuation that marijuana use played a part?

Russ Belville also wrote about this topic recently for Marijuana Politics:

The other pattern I've noticed is that when black people die in police custody, marijuana always seems to be involved. Oliver Neal III was arrested when cops "found drugs in his pocket," but somehow missed the gun he was carrying. Chavis Carter's urine test "returned a positive result for marijuana." Jesus Huerta had a juvenile record for "misdemeanor possession of cannabis." Victor White had "marijuana in his pocket," but again, cops never found his gun. Michael Brown was so allegedly high on pot he was "a demon." Eric Garner was out on bail for marijuana possession. Freddie Gray was a seller of marijuana. (Apparently police were unable to find any connection between Walter Scott and marijuana.)

Bringing up the deceased's positive toxicology test for or previous conviction for marijuana is a classic media move by the police to discredit the victims of their abuse, and it's happening now with Sandra Bland. "Looking at the autopsy results and toxicology, it appears she swallowed a large quantity of marijuana or smoked it in the jail," according to the Waller County District Attorney Elton Mathis. Somehow she was booked, frisked, and searched, but cops never found this large quantity of marijuana on her person? Maybe she had formed it in the shape of a gun.

Discovering someone with marijuana on their person or in their system is not a reliable indicator of their criminal nature or suicidal state. According to the latest Gallup poll, 1 in 9 Americans over the age of 18 are current marijuana smokers. In Sandra Bland's age group, the number is close to 1 in 5.

Some will blame the victim. Why didn't she just put her cigarette out? Why didn't she just get out of the car when told? Why wasn't she just meek and subservient, let the officer violate her rights, and work it out in court later? Sometimes these victim-blamers are the same sort of people who vigorously defend their Second Amendment rights in case they need weapons to fight back against a tyrannical government, but cannot recognize that tyranny when it's exercised against black citizens.

Maybe Sandra Bland didn't want to exit her car because she was aware of the two separate incidents in Texas in 2013 where troopers finger-searched the anuses and vaginas of women for marijuana and drugs, finding none, and didn't change latex gloves between the searches. But Texas made that illegal without a warrant (Fourth Amendment notwithstanding) in 2015 and, of course, no Texas cops would violate the law. (At least she wasn't in neighboring New Mexico, where you get digital penetration, enemas, x-rays, and colonoscopies if cops suspect you're hiding drugs in your person.)

As long as Americans are being misled by law enforcement, marijuana opponents, and the mainstream media, this issue will never be fully resolved. This issue needs to be addressed at it's source. Until police misconduct is directly addressed, there will always be people that are killed and then have their name smeared after the fact because they chose to use a substance that is 114 times safer than alcohol, even though their marijuana consumption had NOTHING to do with their murder at the hands of police.

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