Jacob Sullum

More often the searches find small amounts of marijuana, possession of which is ordinarily a citable offense. But in a tricky maneuver Kelly concedes is illegal, cops will often claim marijuana pulled out of pockets or bags during a stop was possessed "in public view," a misdemeanor that justifies an arrest. Not surprisingly, pot busts have skyrocketed along with street stops, and 87 percent of the arrestees are black or Hispanic, even though surveys indicate whites are just as likely to smoke marijuana.

As Obama noted on Friday, "There is a history of racial disparities in the application of our criminal laws -- everything from the death penalty to enforcement of our drug laws." In New York City under Ray Kelly, that history is still being made.

While Kelly's defenders argue that the racially skewed impact of "stop and frisk" is a side effect of sending cops where the crime is, the NYPD's program of spying on innocent Muslims in the name of fighting terrorism explicitly discriminated based on religion and national origin. As The Associated Press revealed in 2011, the NYPD "put American citizens under surveillance and scrutinized where they ate, prayed, and worked not because of charges of wrongdoing, but because of their ethnicity."

Last week Obama declared that "Ray Kelly has obviously done an extraordinary job in New York." That's true enough, but not necessarily in a good way.

Jacob Sullum

Jacob Sullum is a senior editor at Reason magazine and a contributing columnist on Townhall.com.
TOWNHALL DAILY: Be the first to read Jacob Sullum's column. Sign up today and receive Townhall.com daily lineup delivered each morning to your inbox.
©Creators Syndicate