New Jersey's is the Energizer bunny of racial profiling scandals -- it just keeps on ticking. This week, as pressure mounted to force the resignation of former Attorney General Peter Verniero from his seat on the state Supreme Court for his role in covering up evidence of racial profiling, his successor as Attorney General, John Farmer, Jr. was telling the state Senate Judiciary Committee that New Jersey state troopers are still practicing racial profiling on the New Jersey Turnpike.
Farmer said troopers at the Moorestown barracks of Troop D, who patrol the southern portion of the turnpike, searched blacks and Hispanics much more frequently and with lower seizure rates than whites.
Troopers seized drugs or cash in 25% of their searches of whites, compared to 13% of searches of blacks and only 5% involving Hispanics, he told the committee.
"Now we have proof," Farmer said. But the state of New Jersey has had proof since at least 1996, when the Soto case in Gloucester County resulted in the first dismissal of criminal charges because of a racial profiling stop. The state had proof when Farmer himself agreed to a consent decree with the US Justice Department last year. And Verniero himself admitted as much two years ago.
"That's astounding," the Rev. Reginald Jackson, executive director of the Black Ministers Council of New Jersey told the Associated Press. "We've been dealing with this about three years since that admission and you see nothing done."
Ronald Thompson, head of the Garden State Bar Association, the African American bar group, was not so surprised. He told the New York Times that just last week a municipal police car in West Orange, where he lives, followed him until he turned into his driveway.
"This is on my own street, in my own neighborhood," he told the Times. "So if anyone thinks this is just something out of the past, they should pay more attention."
"This only heightens our concern that the issue of racial profiling be pursued beyond these hearings," said New Jersey ACLU executive director Deborah Jacobs. "We need to have real reforms, which would include better police training, more educational opportunities for police, better internal investigation mechanisms, and citizen review panels with real powers," she told DRCNet. "We must have meaningful reform, not just a wrist-slapping."
Racial profiling still persists in New Jersey, but the same can no longer be said with any certainty about the political career of Peter Verniero. After a decidedly lackluster and unresponsive performance before the Senate Judiciary Committee last week, calls for Verniero's resignation have increased to a roar.
Verniero has taken sustained criticism for denying over a two-year period that racial profiling existed, even as his office sat on data proving the case. In his testimony to the committee last week, Verniero demonstrated some contrition, but even more forgetfulness.
"I wish I had done more" to acknowledge and prevent the practice, Verniero said. "I gave it my best shot."
But much more frequent were his "I don't recall" answers. According to the New York Times, an informal survey of Verniero's testimony yielded 158 "I don't recalls," 21 "I don't remembers" and 38 "I don't knows." Verniero typically recalled assigning subordinates to investigate racial profiling reports, but could not recall following up.
At the end of Verniero's marathon 13-hour testimony, Senator William Gormley, the committee's chairman, accused him of "misleading" the committee. He was soon joined by the legislature's Black and Latino caucus, which last week called for Verniero to resign as a state Supreme Court justice.
In an open letter sent last week, the caucus called Verniero's testimony "disturbing and unacceptable."
By this week, every member of the Senate Judiciary Committee had signed a letter to acting Gov. Donald DiFrancesco calling for Verniero's resignation. According to the Bergen Record, the letter charged that Verniero "was derelict in his duty" as attorney general for failing to address racial profiling. It also said Verniero "misled" the committee in earlier testimony, and that he had evidence of racial profiling but "chose to ignore it, and/or withhold it" from the US Justice Department during its investigation into New Jersey troopers in late 1996. The Bergen Record, the New Brunswick Home Tribune and the New York Times have all published editorials in the last week calling on Verniero to resign.
Yesterday (Thursday, 4/5), DiFrancesco asked Verniero to step down. At latest report, Verniero had yet to do so.
But, the New Jersey ACLU's Jacobs points out, bringing down one man does not solve the problem.
"We take no position on Verniero's resignation," she told DRCNet. "The danger is that these hearings and the attention on Verniero ends up being all that gets done. What we need as a society is to have those police practices reformed. We know the war on drugs perpetuates racial discrimination. The police need to understand that skin color or appearance is not a basis on which to make assumptions about conducting legal activities."