Racial Profiling in the U.S.A.
Part 3: The Sordid Tale
of the New Jersey Troopers
Revolutionary Worker #1020, August 29, 1999
Black and Latino people know it goes on: They get stopped for nothing by the cops--over and over again. Black and Latino kids get jacked up, frisked and threatened--routinely--for just walking down the street. Black and Latino motorists get stopped in traffic on ridiculous pretexts. And then they're subjected to questioning, searches, insults and often arrest. This is "racial profiling." In the oppressed communities, people have a name for it "DWB" --"Driving While Black" or "Driving While Brown."
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), speaking about "racial profiling" by law enforcement, recently summed up: "No person of color is safe from this treatment anywhere, regardless of their obedience to the law, their age, the type of car they drive, or their station in life." The actions, policies and assumptions of the police are unjust. They are insulting. They are crudely racist. They are often deadly. And they are the long-established and fiercely defended policies of the U.S. justice system.
Part 1 of this series examined the mounting documentation of systematic and countrywide racial profiling. Part 2 documented how racial profiling has long been part of policing in the U.S. and how it has intensified under the system's so-called "war on drugs." In Part 3, we discuss the major "racial profiling" scandal within the New Jersey state police.
Mr. State Trooper, please don't stop me!
Bruce Springsteen's song State Trooper
A reporter from the New York Times Magazine was interviewing some Black kids in Philadelphia. They talked about the nearby New Jersey Turnpike. One of the kids said: "That's the worst, I never ride the turnpike." The reporter expected a nearby Black cop to disagree. Instead the cop said "When I go to Jersey for Guard weekends, I take the back roads. I won't get on the turnpike. I won't mess with those troopers."
The New Jersey State Police, with its 2,600-plus troopers, patrols a vital corridor for the U.S. empire--the highway route of I-95 that links the key urban hubs of Boston, New York, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C. These troopers have long been notorious for racism and brutality--while the New Jersey state authorities coldly have denied it goes on.
On March 10, 1996 a major trial discussed racial profiling in southern New Jersey's Gloucester County--right across the Delaware River from Philadelphia. Nineteen people had joined their cases together in 1990 saying they were stopped because of their nationality. Superior Court Judge Robert E. Francis threw out the evidence seized by police in these cases--saying state troopers practiced "selective enforcement"--stopping and searching drivers solely because of the color of their skin. He noted that state police were trained by watching videos where drug dealers were portrayed overwhelmingly by Black and Latino actors. New Jersey's governor and attorney general forcefully denied that there was any racial profiling--and they appealed the judge's ruling.
Then in August 1997, massive protests broke out across the Hudson River in New York City, after police brutalized Haitian immigrant Abner Louima. The sight of thousands stepping out against police brutality electrified and encouraged people all over the area. It would no longer be so easy to cover up for the New Jersey State Police again.
Four Young Men in a Van
A key turning point came in April 1998, when New Jersey troopers shot up a van carrying four young men to a basketball clinic in North Carolina. The troopers claimed that radar showed the van was speeding. It was later revealed their squad car was not equipped with radar. These youth had been stopped because they were Black and Latino.
As the cops approached the van at the edge of the highway, the van accidentally slipped out of gear and started rolling. The cops opened fire--pumping eleven rounds into three of the unarmed young men. Danny Reyes was hit six times, Leroy Grant four, Rayshawn Brown two.
Reyes' right arm had been shattered. He said, "When the paramedics came, the police said I couldn't be uncuffed because I hadn't been searched yet. When the medics had finished taking off my clothes, one of them said, `Is that a proper enough search?' The pain was so bad, I was hoping I would pass out. I was butt naked, tightly handcuffed behind my back, and laying in the mud in the ditch. I was asking the officers to please take off the cuffs. They told me to shut up."
Police dogs found no drugs in the van. Leroy Grant said: "To this day, I still don't know why we got shot. It's been mentally, physically hard for us. The bullets are still lodged in our bodies."
The mainstream media largely repeated the police version of this shooting. Governor Christine Todd Whitman told the New York Daily News (May 3, 1998), "There is no such thing as racial profiling." Colonel Carl Williams, head of the State Police, took the same line: "Racial profiling--or any form of discrimination for that matter--is not and will not be tolerated."
This time, the usual coverup did not work. These young men were stopped for nothing, shot for nothing, crippled-up for nothing, insulted for nothing! And people were simply not going to stand for it.
The black newspaper Daily Challenge ran a front-page exposure of the van shooting on May 11 under the headline "Driving While Black--A Fatal Offense?" The paper publicized plans for a "Freedom Ride"--a car caravan protest that took over the New Jersey Turnpike on Saturday, May 16 and stopped traffic by slowing to a crawl.
Concern grew in the ruling class about the deepening exposure, distrust and hatred of the police generally throughout the U.S. New Jersey's Black congressional delegation appealed to the federal authorities to step in. Federal authorities started a then-secret investigation into the racist practices of the New Jersey State Police.
Under pressure, the New Jersey officials announced that they were themselves investigating their armed enforcers. The coverup was crumbling; all kinds of new documentation were about to tumble out.
Damage Control Fails
The plan of the New Jersey governor was simple: Her attorney general, Peter Verniero, would document that some departments of the New Jersey State Police were engaging in racial profiling. She would announce she was "shocked" and would denounce racial profiling. Then, they hoped, the controversy would die out.
But, at that moment, the head of the New Jersey State Police decided to defend his department. Colonel Carl Williams granted an interview in February 1999--just as the N.J. attorney general's report was about to be released and just as the shocking police murder of Amadou Diallo hit the headlines. Williams said, "Two weeks ago the president of the United States went to Mexico to talk to the president of Mexico about drugs. He didn't go to Ireland. He didn't go to England. The drug problem today is cocaine or marijuana. It is most likely minority groups that's involved with that."
This bombshell made it obvious that racial profiling had official support at the very top of the state police. The pinballing between official denials and coarse racist arguments was dizzying.
Williams was immediately fired by New Jersey Governor Whitman. On April 20, 1999 her state's attorney general issued the Interim Report of the State Police Review Team Regarding Allegations of Racial Profiling. It acknowledged what Black and Latino people had charged all along: that the New Jersey State Police systematically used racial profiling. Hours before they released this report, the New Jersey state government dropped its appeal of the southern New Jersey racial profiling case and dismissed 600 cases pending against drivers--a stunning admission of how intense their racist campaign had been.
The Interim Report documented that between 1994 and 1999 over 77 percent of the people searched in over a thousand highway stops were Black or Latino.
Interim Report documented state police policy: "Physical and personal characteristics such as race, age, sex, length of hair, style of dress, type of vehicle, and number of occupants of a vehicle may not be utilized as facts relevant to establish reasonable suspicion or probable cause unless the member can identify and describe the manner in which a characteristic is directly and specifically related to a particular criminal activity." Translated from cop-speak, this says: "We forbid racial profiling, unless we choose to use racial profiling."
A study done at Temple and Carnegie Mellon Universities showed 40 percent of the people stopped on the New Jersey Turnpike were Black, while only 13 percent of the drivers were Black. When stops were based on radar alone Black people were stopped at the same rate as anyone else.
The Interim Report described a police technique called "spotlighting"--where troopers parked their cars perpendicular to the highway and would shine their headlights into moving cars. Their radar guns wouldn't work at that angle, but the cops were identifying (and then targeting) drivers to stop--because of their nationality, or because they were young, or in some other way "fit the profile."
The report's conclusion said "minority motorists have been treated differently than non-minority motorists at various stages of motor vehicle stops." At the same time, the report insisted "the New Jersey State Police has never issued an official policy to engage in racial profiling or any other discriminatory enforcement practices."
Governor Whitman told the New York Times that racial profiling is not something her state government "had any reason to anticipate." The New Jersey state authorities could no longer deny that racial profiling was a fact on their highways, so they just denied that it was a policy.
New Denials, New Exposure
"As you well know racial profiling is not something that started with the state of New Jersey, but it's darn well going to stop."
New Jersey Governor Christine Todd Whitman,
WNBC Interview, August 1, 1999
"The systematic harassment of black drivers in New Jersey, the shooting of Amadou Diallo, an unarmed African immigrant, by New York City police officers earlier this year, and other incidents in other states have brought the relationship between blacks and cops to a level of seemingly irreversible toxicity."
New York Times Magazine, June 20, 1999
State and federal officials started a campaign that combines denunciation of racial profiling with proposals for lame reforms. President Clinton announced "Racial profiling is wrong, it is destructive, and it must stop." He called for new federal laws to promote data collection and reporting by federal, state and local police--so that records are kept on the nationality of people who are stopped and searched.
It is worth pointing out that Clinton was not against racial profiling when he was in charge of the State Police in Arkansas. In 1988, when Clinton was governor of Arkansas, a federal judge fined the state police there for "failure to comply" with a court order to stop profiling. Similarly Clinton's Attorney General Janet Reno was a prosecutor in Florida before 1992--where intense policies of racial profiling were being refined in the early days of the "war on drugs." There is nothing in her record either that suggests any opposition to such racist policies.
Clinton's latest proposal was made at a police conference to "build trust between police and the communities they serve." This confirms that the ruling class is speaking against racial profiling in a move for "damage control," not justice. Official reports lament the distrust and hatred of police that has developed and deepened among many sections of the people--including among forces like the Black middle classes whose political support is important for the stability of the U.S. "Restoring trust" in their police (and their countrywide police clampdown) is the purpose of this damage control campaign.
Clinton has presided over the massive imprisonment of people over the last eight years. The prison population has doubled from one million to two million--much of it because of the criminalization of Black and Latino youth in the war on drugs. Stopping this kind of racial profiling is not under discussion in Washington press conferences!
Meanwhile, it has become clear how easily "data collection" becomes a way of hiding the existence of racial profiling. Investigations into the van shooting on the turnpike uncovered a New Jersey trooper practice called "ghosting." The New York Times reports: "The state police supervisor said it was a common practice for troopers on the turnpike to jot down the license plate number of white motorists who were not stopped and use them in reports of blacks who were pulled over." In other words, police records were easily falsified so that the "data" could be used to "prove" there was no racial profiling going on.
Two troopers were indicted for falsifying such records. Their lawyer made a revealing point about the racial profiling they were engaged in: "They were following guidelines that were issued from as high up as the DEA and the federal government and that will come out during the trial." The federal Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) and its "Operation Pipeline" has been training the New Jersey State Police (along with tens of thousands of other cops countrywide) to use racial profiles to stop drivers on the highways and search their cars.
The New Jersey Attorney General's Interim Report mentions these same connections: "We received information that at times the State Police Patrol Drug Response Unit disseminated information to State Police Barracks concerning the racial and ethnic characteristics of persons who were found to be in possession of drugs. The dissemination of this information, while no doubt done in good faith and in accordance with the spirit if not the letter of Operation Pipeline and other federal drug interdiction initiatives, would tend to reinforce inappropriate stereotypes, leading officers to believe that they would be more likely to encounter illicit drug traffickers by preferentially stopping, questioning and searching the vehicles of minority motorists."
The Struggle Continues
"Stop the Korrupt Killer Kops,
Christine Whitman and her hitmen."
T-shirts worn at New Jersey Turnpike protest, July 4, 1999
"Why does the system give the cops a green light to spread terror in oppressed communities? Because that's what their real job comes down to. The cops are out there to enforce the miserable conditions so many people are forced to live under. They are the first line of defense for the capitalist class who rule over us."
Carl Dix, National Spokesperson, RCP,USA
In June 1999, as the authorities were shedding their crocodile tears, another shocking incident hit the headlines. An interracial couple was driving on Interstate 80. Stanton Crew, who is Black, and Adrianne Lynn Hart, who is white, caught the attention of a policeman who demanded that they pull over. Crew simply kept driving. The cops and state troopers opened fire on the car--pumping 27 rounds into it. Four hit Stanton Crew, killing him. One bullet hit Adrianne Hart. The police claim they thought he was driving drunk--the autopsy showed no drugs or alcohol in his system. Once again, racial profiling had led to police murder.
On the following July 4th weekend, hundreds of protesters gathered where the New Jersey Turnpike leads to the popular boardwalk of Atlantic City. Over 75 people walked onto the expressway and staged a sit-in. Among those arrested were the mother and sister of Stanton Crew.
The struggle continues--through the infuriating fog of official denial and the stark reality of ongoing police racism. Tens of thousands of people are being unjustly targeted, humiliated and threatened on the highways of the U.S. Literally millions must worry about random stops, arrests and even killing at the hands of the police. It is intolerable--and it must be fought.
This practice of racial profiling runs deep in the U.S. system. It has continued through the days of slavery, and Southern sharecropping and modern capitalism. Police enforcement for this system has always included a policy of "racial profiling" aimed at the movement of Black people, Latinos, Asian immigrants, Arabs and Native Americans.
Racial profiling is the policy of confining Black people to ghettos and of treating them like criminals wherever they go. It is the policy of clamping down on the Southern border--and treating Latino people like "potential illegals" on the streets of a whole country. And with the war on drugs, which has ensnared tens of thousands of people in random stops and searches--including thousands of white people as well--the special targeting of Black and Latino people has only intensified.
Carl Dix, national spokesperson for the RCP, has said, "They got a murderous plan for dealing with us and they're carrying out that plan with a vengeance. We have to be just as serious about building a movement that can put the authorities on notice that we will no longer let them get away with giving a green light to the brutalizing and murdering cops.... Together we can bring to life the system's worst nightmare--the anger of the people at the indignities they're forced to live under today linking up with revolutionary understanding and revolutionary organization. That's the thing this system fears most."
This article is posted in English and Spanish on Revolutionary Worker Online
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