The New Jersey racial profiling case that led to a national debate on the practice has reached its conclusion. The case that began with a series of bangs on the New Jersey Turnpike has ended with a whimper in a Trenton courtroom with two state troopers taking the fall for a practice encouraged by state and federal officials. But even the troopers didn't do too badly, considering they had opened fire and wounded three unarmed black and Hispanic men on the Turnpike for no apparent reason.
Troopers John Hogan and James Kenna pleaded guilty on Tuesday on charges of obstructing the investigation into the April 1998 shootings. They admitted to the court that they had lied to superiors investigating the shootings and that they had intentionally misrepresented the race of other drivers they had stopped in an effort to cover up the fact they were targeting racial minorities. While they had originally been charged with aggravated assault, and Kenna faced an additional charge of attempted murder, in the end they were able to cop a plea.
Under the plea agreement, neither man will serve jail time nor undergo probation. Both men also resigned from the police force and promised never to work in law enforcement again. "You are victims not only of your own actions, but of the system which employed you," State Superior Court Judge told the pair, fining each man $280.
That wasn't good enough for critics of the practice. "This was not justice," Rev. Reginald T. Jackson of the Black Ministers Council of New Jersey told the New York Times, "and we will not stop until justice is ours. Not one superior officer has been named. Not one superior officer has been removed from employment with the New Jersey State Police."
While higher-ups in New Jersey and at the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), which promulgated race-based drug enforcement practices to the states, escaped largely unscathed, the political fallout from the case made racial profiling a national issue and dominated former Gov. Christine Todd Whitman's second term. New Jersey authorities underwent an investigation by the Justice Department and had to enter into a consent decree allowing a court-appointed monitor to oversee the state police. State Supreme Court Justice Peter Verniero, who was attorney general at the time of the incident and its cover-up, was threatened with impeachment for his role, but that move died in the State Assembly.
The state settled a civil lawsuit filed by the shooting victims, a group of young men on the way to a basketball camp, agreeing to pay out $12.9 million last February.
While the New Jersey case catapulted racial profiling to center stage -- it was denounced by George W. Bush and Al Gore during the 2000 election campaign -- the events of September 11 and their aftermath have largely undercut progress toward making racial profiling a taboo tactic for law enforcement.