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African Americans disproportionately cited for public pot use in Seattle -police

By Victoria Cavaliere

SEATTLE (Reuters) - African Americans in Seattle were ticketed disproportionately to their population for unlawfully using marijuana in public places during the first half of 2014, according to a report released on Wednesday by the city's police department.

Between January and June, Seattle police wrote 82 tickets for public consumption of pot in a state that voted in 2012 to legalize the sale of cannabis to adults for recreational use but does not allow it to be used in public places.

Of those 82 tickets, 36 percent were issued to African-Americans, who make up just eight percent of Seattle's population, according to the police report and census data. Most of the African Americans ticketed were men, the report found.

"It's unfortunate that this trend has come out again," said Mark Cooke, policy counsel at the American Civil Liberties Union of Washington state.

"The racial disproportionality in law enforcement is still in existence and we need to get to the real issues that allow this disparity to take place," he said.

The Seattle police department, which said that very few people overall were being ticketed with warnings the preferred method of enforcement, acknowledged the racial disparity.

"We are the first to say the numbers are disproportionate and that's precisely the reason we are studying this," said Seattle Police Department spokesman Sergeant Sean Whitcomb.

The majority of those ticketed, or 43.9 percent, where white males. According to 2010 census figures, 70 percent of Seattle's population was white.

Also hit heavily with citations were people who reported to be homeless or living in vacant lots, shelters or hotels. About 46 percent of those ticketed did not have a permanent address, the report found.

The police report said 81 of the 82 tickets were given out in the densely populated downtown area after complaints from residents.

The police bi-annual report will be required by the Seattle City Council through 2015 in an effort to monitor enforcement by race, sex and age.

(Reporting by Victoria Cavaliere; Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Ken Wills)

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