By David Brand
A year-long investigation concluded Wednesday with the arrest of 22 people inside the Queensbridge Houses in Long Island City, including 3 for low-level marijuana possession.
The Queens District Attorney’s office announced the bust in a press release Thursday morning, which listed the names and charges for the 22 people arrested.
Of the 22 defendants, one was charged with criminal possession of a firearm and another with possession of an undisclosed weapon. Nine are charged with 7th-degree criminal possession of a controlled substance — the lowest-level criminal drug possession charge —and three are charged with marijuana possession.
“This investigation is another example of police and prosecutors working together to reduce drug dealing that too often plagues our neighborhoods,” said Queens DA Richard Brown in a statement. “We are committed to continue to employ aggressive and innovative tactics to track down and prosecute drug dealers and other criminals who seek to terrorize our communities.”
But criminal justice reform advocates question why the NYPD and the Queens County DA announced that they had picked up 12 people on low-level drug possession.
“This press release says it’s ‘innovative tactics’ and saying that the community is ‘terrorized,’ but these actions [by the police] are very terrifying,” said Legal Aid attorney Anthony Posada.
According to the criminal complaints, police obtained search warrants and entered several apartments. In one apartment, they found three “zip lock bags” of marijuana.
In another woman’s apartment, police recovered a “clear plastic twist containing marijuana from inside the wallet on the window sill.” The woman pleaded guilty to unlawful possession of marijuana at her arraignment and was fined $25, according to a spokesperson for the Queens County DA’s office.
Posada said the raid reflects the over-policing of communities of color.
“It’s the continuation of aggressive, unnecessary, very military-style operations that are concentrated in public housing complexes,” Posada said.
Posada said the marijuana possession arrests stick out at a time when the NYPD and some New York City DAs have decided to stop arresting and prosecuting many low-level weed offenses.
“The number of people being arrested for substance possession, particularly marijuana, in light of where everything is at with the city and with the governor endorsing a [New York State Health Department] report approving marijuana legalization goes in the other direction,” Posada said.
On Sept. 1, the NYPD will stop making arrests and start writing tickets for low-level marijuana offenses except in cases where suspects are on parole or probation, have an open warrant, a violent criminal history or fail to show identification.
In July, Manhattan DA Cy Vance announced that his office would no longer prosecute low-level marijuana offenses because the office had “found virtually no public safety rationale for the ongoing arrest and prosecution of marijuana smoking, and no moral justification for the intolerable racial disparities that underlie enforcement.”
In the first six months of 2018, 93 percent of people arrested for marijuana possession in New York City were black or Hispanic, according to data compiled from NYPD arrest records and distributed by the Police Reform Organizing Project in July.
The racial disparities in marijuana arrest data have prompted Mayor Bill de Blasio, the NYPD and the DAs from Manhattan and Brooklyn to review and change marijuana policies.
Posada called on the Queens DA to adopt a similar policy.
“Marijuana prohibition in New York is completely racist and applies to some communities and not to others,” he said.
Nevertheless, Queensbridge resident Raymond Normandeau, who runs the website Normandeau Newswire, said the arrests seemed like a “good sign” but added that he had heard few details of the investigation and raid.
“The funny thing is, no one is talking about it on the streets or in the building,” Normandeau said.
He said the locks have not worked on the front doors at many of the 96 towers inside the vast complex and that NYCHA has ignored tenants’ demands to fix the locks. The open doors have enabled drug dealers to roam free in the building, he said.
“With unsecured doors, it makes it easy for people to come and go,” he said.