As promised last month and previewed in the Week Online (http://www.drcnet.org/wol/160.html#njprofiling), New Jersey Attorney General John J. Farmer Jr. on Monday released more than 90,000 pages of documents showing that New Jersey state troopers stopped minority motorists in hugely disproportionate numbers for drug searches along state highways.
Despite official statements to the contrary, the documents also give the lie to New Jersey officials' assertions that they did not attempt to cover-up evidence of racial profiling.
The fallout from the disclosures is already coming fast and furious, even as state officials work frantically to spin the public relations disaster in the best possible light.
Criminal defense attorneys said as many as 180 pending criminal cases could be dismissed as tainted by unconstitutional racial profiling stops.
A spokesman for the Attorney General's office told the New York Times Farmer would review 105 pending criminal cases, but Middlesex County public defender said that figure did not include at least 20 cases in Middlesex alone. Farmer could dismiss some or all of the criminal cases.
If he does not, State Superior Court Judge Walter Barisonek will consider the consolidated criminal cases in a hearing set for January 23rd. Defense attorneys said they will ask that any remaining cases be thrown out.
There may be more criminal cases to revisit. William Buckman, a Moorestown attorney who pioneered the racial profiling defense in a 1996 Gloucester County case, told the Times he had already begun hearing from prisoners hoping to have their convictions overturned.
"I am selectively looking into those cases and my conscience dictates that I'll get involved in some of them," he said.
Expanding on the theme, he told the Bergen Record, "I hope more people come forward. If the New Jersey justice system has any moral strength and strength of character, it should be willing to reopen cases where the convictions aren't sound."
The state may also have to pay out millions of dollars in damages to motorists stopped under racial profiling guidelines who were not arrested and to African American and Latino state troopers who sued because they were forced to practice racial profiling. Attorney General Farmer hinted that this week's disclosures made the state's position even more difficult to defend.
"Where they are reasonable, we're going to settle these cases," he told the Record. "We'll certainly look into it much more closely based on what we've discovered."
Meanwhile, Farmer and other state officials tried to make the best of the mess.
In a statement released Monday, Gov. Christine Todd Whitman said, "While racial profiling did not begin in this state or under this administration, history will show that the end of racial profiling in America did indeed begin in New Jersey and under this administration."
Farmer told the Associated Press on Monday that state officials had not tried to cover up the looming scandal, but had tried to cope with race-based intelligence profiles from the DEA.
"What you'll see is an agency and a department struggling with these uncertainties," said Farmer. "There was no overarching conspiracy to cover this up. There was an attempt to understand it. There was an attempt to put it in context."
Critics weren't buying it. "We find this spin to be an affront and insult to the minority community in this state," Reginald Jackson of the Black Ministers Council of New Jersey told a press conference in Orange on Monday.
"When these documents are reviewed, it will show that the practice of racial profiling has been going on knowingly for two decades," said Jackson.
Similarly, state Assemblyman LeRoy Jones (D-Essex) told the press conference, "It saddens and discourages me. Those comments reek of insensitivity, just trying to find cover for obvious acts of disobedience. We are not going to let Mr. Farmer spin this."
An October 12 article in the New York Times reported that as early as 1996, internal state police audits provided evidence of widespread profiling on the New Jersey Turnpike, but senior officials rejected aggressive action against the problem and withheld information from federal civil rights prosecutors.
Critics notwithstanding, New Jersey may have a point when it comes to blaming federal drug warriors for promoting racial profiling techniques. Some of the documents released show police commanders and other state officials attempting to balance race-based DEA intelligence reports with the need to practice nondiscriminatory policing.
One 1997 memo from an aggrieved Deputy Attorney General George Rover complained that the Justice Department, which at the time was pressuring New Jersey to stop racial profiling, "cannot have it both ways."
He complained that the DEA encouraged state troopers to aggressively seek out drug offenders using race as a criteria and cited DEA intelligence reports naming ethnic Chinese, West African, Pakistani, Indian, and Colombian groups as "a major threat to New Jersey at the wholesale drug level."
Other DEA training materials warned troopers to look for people with dreadlocks and cars with two Latino males traveling together.
Farmer also sent some blame Washington's way. "The troopers in the field were given a mixed message," he told the New York Times. "On one hand, we were training them not to take race into account. On the other hand, all the intelligence featured race and ethnicity prominently. So what is your average trooper to make of all this?"
University of Toledo law professor David Harris, who authored an ACLU report on racial profiling called "Driving While Black," also pointed at the DEA.
"The DEA has been the great evangelizer for racial profiling on the highways," he told the Times. "They had used the technique in airports to nab drug couriers and thought this held great promise on the highways. So they taught it to local departments, and because the DEA agents weren't the ones actually pulling over the cars, they've never really been held accountable for it."
Visit http://www.aclu.org/profiling/ for further information on this issue. Recent coverage in the Bergen Record (northern New Jersey) includes: