Almost five years after New Jersey state troopers wounded three minority men during a traffic stop on the New Jersey Turnpike, the state legislature has passed and Gov. Scott McGreevey has signed a bill banning racial profiling by police officers. Under the new law, officers who engage in racial profiling -- the act of subjecting people to stops, searches, or other scrutiny based solely on their race -- will face up to five years in prison and a $15,000 fine.
Although New Jersey officials acknowledged nearly three years ago that state troopers indeed singled out certain travelers for harassment because of their race, bitter lobbying by law enforcement interests had blocked legislation to bar the practice until now. Among other objections, desperate cops claimed this year's bill would prevent them from broadcasting the race of criminal suspects, a claim debunked last week by acting state Attorney General Peter Harvey.
Supporters of efforts to outlaw racial profiling pronounced themselves satisfied. "It's been a long road to get here," said the bill's sponsor, Assemblyman William Payne (D- Newark) at a March 12 news conference celebrating the bill's passage, "but we are finally at the threshold of having a law that will stop heinous, humiliating, degrading acts by police officers."
Still, while the bill passed by a large margin, 21 members of the General Assembly and six senators voted against it. While opponents claimed they did not support racial profiling and were merely troubled by language in the bill, Reginald Jackson, executive director of the Black Ministers Council of New Jersey and a leading proponent of the bill, wasn't so sure. "It is encouraging that the gap between the minority community and the troopers was bridged so both could support the bill," he said. "That makes it all the more unfortunate that 27 members of the Legislative Assembly did not vote to outlaw something that is so obviously immoral and should be illegal."
Even if the recalcitrant 27 couldn't bring themselves to vote for the bill, the New Jersey State Troopers Association has finally seen the light. Despite years of fighting any restrictions on the practice, association president Ken McClelland told the Associated Press the union was satisfied with the bill. "No police officer should pull over a person because of what they look like," he said. "These actions diminish all the good work we do every day, and this bill sends a strong message that such activity will be punished."
Visit http://www.stopthedrugwar.org/njprofiling/ to view the New Jersey Racial Profiling Archive released by the state attorney general's office in 2000.