Community meeting discusses marijuana arrests in Fayetteville

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FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (KNWA) — Community members say a report shows a local police department is discriminating based on class and race.

Stephen Coger, an immigration attorney with the Arkansas Justice Collective, is hoping his report on drug arrests will open some eyes about problematic policing in Fayetteville.

“We’re hoping to work with the city and find some solutions,” Coger said.

In 2008, Fayetteville voters approved a ballot measure making misdemeanor marijuana cases its lowest law enforcement priority.

The report shows an increase in marijuana arrests since then.

“When we compared the arrest rates, we still saw that extreme disproportionately of somewhere over 200% increase for simple possession arrests,” Coger said.

On Thursday, a community meeting was held at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Fayetteville to discuss the findings.

The report has been a topic of discussion for the past two weeks.

At a recent Fayetteville City Council meeting, City Attorney Kit Williams discussed an amendment that would recognize prosecutors have discretion about whether or not to prosecute a low on a low-level marijuana misdemeanor offense.

“Police will still be making arrests in appropriate cases, the prosecutor will still be prosecuting in appropriate cases. But the prosecutor will also have clear discretion if he wants to to dismiss a case, if he feels like that should happen,” Williams said.

Sgt. Tony Murphy with the Fayetteville Police Department says marijuana has always been a low priority, even before the 2008 ballot measure. He also points to other changes in the city.

“Our streets have become flooded with marijuana, so the shere volume of marijuana has increased substantially since 2008, which would lead more officers to come in contact with people who have marijuana,” Murphy said. “Possession of marijuana is against the law, and police officers are getting paid to enforce the law.”

Coger hopes that by opening up the conversation, city leaders, prosecutors, and police can work together towards a common goal.

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