The New Inquiry, sociologist Harry Levine explains the terrible mechanics propelling apartheid-style law enforcement in America:
Police arrest mostly young and low-income men for marijuana possession, disproportionately blacks and Latinos. In the last 15 years, police and sheriff ’s departments in every major U.S. city and county have made over 10 million of these possession arrests. Most people arrested were not smoking. They were carrying tiny amounts.
Police make so many because they are relatively safe and easy arrests. All police have arrest quotas and often they can earn overtime pay by making a marijuana arrest toward the end of a shift. The arrests show productivity. Making many low-level arrests of all kinds is very good for training rookie police who gain experience doing many stops and searches of teenagers.
There is also a push nationally, to states, counties, and city police departments, to get as many new people as possible into the criminal databases. There is nothing else police do that gets so many young people without criminal records into the criminal databases.
The effects of the criminal records are far more serious than the often quite nasty experience of getting arrested and searched — including sometimes strip-searched and jailed overnight or longer. Shortly after the person is arrested, police send the criminal records to their state database and then to the FBI, never to be deleted. Expungement is a myth. The arrest records also go to criminal databases in other states, and then to a huge network of commercial databases instantly accessible on the web. Twenty years ago misdemeanor arrest records were papers in the basement of court houses or in storage. Now anyone can go to Google and search for “criminal records.”
All the national chains and big box stores with entry-level jobs search criminal databases in hiring. Landlords even of a few rental units use them. Credit agencies, banks, credit cards all run these criminal background checks. Schools and colleges do as well. Many occupations — security guards, home health care attendants, day care workers, teachers, beauticians — require licenses from the government, often the state government.
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