NYC Councilmember Melissa Mark-Viverito Hosts Film Screening & Conversation about Ending the Drug War

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October 15, 2013 - By Melody Lee

NEW YORK—Tomorrow, New York City Council member Melissa Mark-Viverito will bring together community members, students, and advocates for a free screening and discussion around the Sundance award-winning documentary, The House I Live In.

The film focuses on America’s war on drugs and the profound consequences of our existing reliance on a criminal justice approach to our drug policies. Following the screening, Mark-Viverito will lead a discussion with local community members and organizers around ending the war on drugs in New York, including NYC’s racially biased, costly, and unlawful marijuana arrest crusade.

These arrests are a direct result of either unconstitutional searches that arise out of the controversial policing tactic, stop-and-frisk, or through the process of police officers coercing individuals to remove items from their pockets, turning what would have been concealed into public view, the result is countless “manufactured misdemeanors.”

Despite government data indicating that whites use, sell, and possess marijuana at similar rates as other racial groups, over 80 percent of those who are arrested are Black and Latino. The racial disparities associated with these arrests have resulted in the criminalization of tens of thousands of people of color, particularly young men, at the expense of at least $75 million a year in taxpayer money. For many, a marijuana possession arrest is often a person’s first point of contact with the criminal justice system and can have a rippling effect of collateral consequences including loss of employment, public housing, and financial aid.

Council member Mark-Viverito has provided critical leadership in the City Council on these issues by working to end New York City’s reign as the marijuana arrest capital of the world. Last year, she sponsored City Council Resolution 0986-A , to support standardizing the penalty associated with marijuana possession and aligning current marijuana policy in New York with the original legislative intent of the 1977 law.

The Councilwoman worked closely with DPA and a number of grassroots organizations like VOCAL-NY and the Center for NuLeadership to propel this issue to the forefront of discussions at the city-level. Resolution 0986-A passed with an overwhelming margin last spring. The state Assembly passed reform legislation in June, however leadership in the Senate failed to bring it to the Senate floor for a vote.

The screening is open and free to the public, and will provide a venue for the community to discuss much needed reform. The film will be followed by a panel discussion moderated by Bobby Tolbert, a community leader and board member at VOCAL-NY. Panel participants include with Council Member Melissa Mark-Vierito; Jazz Hayden, prominent advocate against the NYPD’s stop-and-frisk policies; Kassandra Frederique, policy coordinator in DPA’s New York office; and Christopher St. John, producer of The House I Live In.

This special event is just one example of Council Member Mark-Viverito’s unyielding commitment to ending the needless criminalization of an entire generation of our young people by creating opportunities for critical discourse around drug policy reform.

Click here for more event information.

Melody Lee is policy associate with the Drug Policy Alliance.

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