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How the Government Bribes Police to Arrest People for Smoking Pot

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Activists have long claimed that cops have quotas for ticketing and arresting people, but evidence to support those claims varies from state to state. However, newly obtained documents reveal that local police agencies have indeed used the number of low-level drug arrests to sustain critical law enforcement funding from the federal government under a program called the Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant (JAG) Program.

You may have heard of the Byrne Grant program from Michelle Alexander's book The New Jim Crowe. Alexander writes,

"The Byrne program was designed to encourage every federal grant recipient to help fight the War on Drugs. Millions of dollars in federal aid have been offered to state and local law enforcement agencies willing to wage the war."

Scholars say the program has had a major impact on the precipitous rise of low-level drug arrests over the last twenty years.

"This money has helped reshape policing strategies and policies in major cities and a lot of rural areas throughout the United States," says Harry Levine, a sociologist at Queens College, CUNY, who has studied drug policy for decades. "Although the government claims [Byrne grant money] goes toward apprehending high level traffickers, it's often very low level people who get arrested. It targets low-income people and people of color much more than anyone understands."

Nationwide, reforming our bloated prison system-the largest in the world-and the drug laws that fed its growth is coming into vogue, after decades of either willful ignorance or complicity by political and media establishments. Yet little attention is being given to pieces of the apparatus that sustain racist and class-based patterns of arrests and prosecutions. The Byrne grant program may well be at the heart of this arrangement.        


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