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OpinionColumnistsLeonard Levitt

In NYC and Ferguson, it's 'truth' versus reality

A large crowd demonstrates at Foley Square in

A large crowd demonstrates at Foley Square in New York City Thursday, Dec. 4, 2014 in the wake of a Staten Island grand jury's decision not to indict NYPD officer Daniel Pantaleo in the death of Eric Garner on July 17, 2014. Photo Credit: Newsday / J. Conrad Williams Jr.

After the death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said the country needed to have an honest discussion about race.

Sometimes, though, when the subject is sensitive, some people choose to believe their own truths.

Let's start with Ferguson's now-iconic chant: "Hands Up. Don't Shoot."

It turns out Brown, an unarmed black teenager fatally shot by white Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson in August, didn't have his hands up when he was shot as some people had claimed. However, according to a recent report by the Justice Department, forensic evidence indicates Brown instead was running toward Wilson. Forensic evidence also appears to support Wilson's claim that Brown reached inside Wilson's car, perhaps for his gun.

None of this ignores or minimizes the country's history of slavery, systemic racism and police brutality toward African Americans. In Ferguson, according to the report, the police targeted blacks for infractions not only out of prejudice but also to make money. Is it any wonder that many African Americans will continue to believe that Brown had his hands up when he was shot?

Now let's turn to New York City, and the NYPD's new marijuana policy -- issuing summonses instead of arresting people for possessing less than 25 grams of weed. The justification by Mayor Bill de Blasio: That low-level marijuana arrests discriminate against African Americans and Hispanics -- since whites, who smoked pot more often, were arrested fewer times.

But, as an NYPD official put it, the mayor left out an important fact: More whites may smoke marijuana but they aren't arrested for possession because most of them smoke it in their living rooms.

Until the city changed its policy, most pot-posession arrests were made on the street or in apartment hallways, where neighbors would call police when they saw kids smoking pot.

Some groups in the city also want to stop arrests for fare jumping, which, like marijuana arrests, they maintain is discriminatory. That is because most fare jumpers are black and Hispanic. These groups are implying that cops arrested them because of their race.

The truth: The cops detained them because they didn't pay the fares.


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