Editor: At the recent Arlington County Democratic Committee debate between Commonwealth’s Attorney Theo Stamos and challenger Parisa Tafti, Stamos’s refusal to confront the realities of racial injustice in Arlington’s criminal-justice system was appalling.
When asked asked if she saw racial disparities in the number of African-Americans stopped by police, Stamos never addressed the question directly, but instead took offense. “I guess the question is, ‘Are Arlington police racist and bigoted?’” she responded.
Her reaction is particularly inappropriate considering the shocking racial disparities.
Take simple marijuana possession. White and black people use marijuana at similar rates, but black people are eight times more likely than white people to be arrested for marijuana in Arlington, the most striking disparity in the state.
Black people account for nearly 58 percent of all marijuana-possession-related convictions, even though they account for only 9 percent of the Arlington population. Black people are less likely to have their cases dismissed, more likely to be convicted once charged, and significantly more likely to serve a jail sentence.
Across the country, prosecutors have chosen not to prosecute low-level marijuana offenses, in part because of the racial disparities in enforcement, choosing instead to focus on crimes that have an effect on public safety. Stamos’s policies perpetuate racial injustices for an act that eight out of 10 Virginians believe shouldn’t be a crime.
Arlington deserves a commonwealth’s attorney who focuses on improving public safety and addressing the racial disparities in our criminal-justice system, not denying they exist in the first place.
Edward Ungvarsky, District of Columbia
Ungvarsky until recently was a resident of Arlington.