As Philadelphia trudges through its early days of weed decriminalization, arrest records show a vast discord between races. Blacks and Latinos are being arrested at almost three times the rate of white stoners in the city of brotherly love, and they’re definitely not smoking any more than them.
So what gives? Philly-based activist NA Poe tried to get to the core of the issue in a recent video feature and ongoing series he calls “#SMOKEDOWNPHILLY.”
In the video, Poe heads out to famous Geno’s Steaks to test an experiment. In front of God and man, and an unflinchingly long line stretching out and around the steakhouse, he smokes a joint (or what could very well be several). In broad daylight. Without a bat of an eyelash, let alone a billy club. And after several interactions with patrons and ribbing with his audience, Poe cuts out “until next time.” And herein lies the issue.
Despite its great intentions, and a seriously biting truth behind it, this video feels more a grab than a message. A gimmick spewing off of the harsh realities of the struggling city instead of cutting into the dialogue and informing the public. Had Poe not been accompanied by his film crew on the hunt for making a “statement,” might he have been more at risk of arrest? Perhaps. But the statement they’re trying to make is right there in that. Crime is the supposed reason for arrest, yet stop and frisk laws in Philly (one of the strictest in the nation) supersede legitimate criminal activity and boil over into simply walking down a street.
“Oh, but you know how those minorities walk-n-crime.” This seems to be an increasingly accepted line of thinking in areas employing stop and frisk. So where can it go? As we seem to make a stride in one direction (a police officer was just charged with murder after shooting a fleeing unarmed man in the back) we take three hard steps in the other (same officer could be let off the charges if his trial follows the pattern of other recent ones involving police shooting unarmed suspects).
Disparaging footage and reports continue to spill out of every corner of the country, some cop beat this kid, shot this kid, abused another. These should be atrocities, not daily occurrences. To serve and protect does not refer to warrants and your own back. It refers to the citizens. Whether black, white, male, female, gay, straight, felon or teetotaling mormon. All citizens. And in truth, if you aim to be a true official of law and justice, then regardless of a person’s citizenship, protection of all should be your call.
Here’s to hoping that NA Poe continues to get the good word out to the people who need it, and that #SMOKEDOWNPHILLY grows in bigger and deeper ways.