Washington DC voters legalized recreational marijuana back in 2014, the same year that Colorado and Washington State did. But the US Congress, which wields ultimate oversight over DC’s laws, won’t allow residents to sell marijuana. The federal government’s intrusion into DC’s laws led to the September 30th arrest of Jamaal Byrd, an African-American who was allegedly selling weed at a restaurant.
While Byrd awaited his trial, police kept him confined at the District’s Central Cell Block, located in the basement of the DC Police Department’s Headquarters. On October 1st, guards discovered Byrd unconscious. They administered first aid and CPR, but he was unresponsive. Corrections officials pronounced him dead at 1:15 a.m. — just seven hours after he was arrested.
A DC Department of Corrections spokesperson said on Friday that officials are still investigating Byrd’s death, but it’s been almost two months since he died. His family wants answers, and they’ve got the activist organization Black Lives Matter fighting on their side.
“We need answers. My son was in great health. What happened to cause his death while in the custody of the DC Department of Corrections?” his mother wrote in a statement, the Washington Post reported. “Nothing will bring my son back — but I am demanding to know what happened to my son! He meant the world to me and my family,” his mother said.
According to a statement released late last month by Black Lives Matter’s core DC organizer, April Goggans, Byrd was on his way to a job training program when he was arrested. And it seems insanely unjust that anyone could be arrested for selling something that the voters of DC have deemed relatively harmless at the district’s own polls. Jail, after all, is rarely a kind place, and should only be reserved for those who are a danger to themselves or to the public.
Black Lives Matter DC is “demanding public transparency and accountability," as well as an "immediate, expeditious, and full review" into Byrd's death, Atlanta Black Star reported.
DC police have been steadily busting so-called weed pop-ups and sellers despite the district’s legalization initiative passed five years ago. Data shows that black Americans, like Byrd, make up 86 percent of DC’s marijuana arrests, even though African-Americans only make up 47 percent of DC’s population, and studies show white and black Americans consume cannabis at equal rates.
Time is running out for the cops to milk pot prohibition for easy arrests, because it’s starting to look like their big bosses on Capitol Hill may legalize weed at the federal level sometime in the not-so-distant future.
Follow Randy Robinson on Twitter