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Racial Profiling: It Never Went Away on the New Jersey Turnpike

Submitted by Phillip Smith on (Issue #462)
Drug War Issues

Despite seven years of reforms aimed at eradicating racial profiling by the New Jersey State Police, the practice continues unabated and has even gotten worse. That's according to an American Civil Liberties Union study that found 30% of drivers stopped on the southern portion of the New Jersey Turnpike were black while African-Americans comprised only 18% of the population.

New Jersey Turnpike entrance
The ACLU of New Jersey used a Tuesday hearing of the Advisory Committee on Police Standards to submit its findings as it urged continued monitoring of state troopers to prevent racial profiling. The Tuesday meeting was the last of four set to study the problem. The panel was appointed by Gov. Jon Corzine (D) to decide whether court-ordered monitoring of the state police should continue.

The state agreed to a consent decree aimed at reforming State Police practices following the shooting of three unarmed young people of color on the Turnpike in 1998. In recent years, court-appointed monitors have found the agency is complying with the decree, and the federal government has offered to lift it.

But State Police continue to stop black drivers at "greatly disproportionate" rates on the southern part of the turnpike, ACLU legal director Edward Barocas told the committee. "Profiling continues unabated," Barocas testified. "African-Americans now make up a higher percentage of stops than they did before the consent decree began."

State Police spokesmen said they were aware that black drivers were being stopped disproportionately, but claimed it did not result from racial profiling. "We've been assured by the independent monitoring team that they have seen no indication of troopers performing unconstitutional actions or any sign of disparate treatment," said Lt. Col. Tom Gilbert.

While Gilbert played defense, State Troopers Fraternal Association president David Jones went on the attack. The ACLU study, in which an outside consultant measured the number of black, brown, and white drivers on the southern Turnpike and compared it with the number of traffic stops, was "junk science" designed to protect the "cottage industry" of defense lawyers who sue the State Police, he claimed. "Everybody there (at the Moorestown Station) from the very top on down has been changed a multitude of times," Jones said, explaining about transfers. "The anomaly exists because sometimes a violator is a violator."

State Police head Rick Fuentes wants to replace the court-appointed monitors with an academic panel, but racial profiling expert Professor Samuel Walker of the University of Nebraska-Omaha said stronger monitoring was needed. "External, independent oversight -- a different set of eyes and ears -- is extremely important for maintaining professional standards," said Walker. "You've got reforms in place. The real important issue is maintaining them... and it requires continuous attention."

The committee will decide on a recommendation to the governor, but there is no word yet on when that will happen.

Click here to view large portions of the historic 91,000 page New Jersey Racial Profiling Archive, released by the state attorney general's office in November 2000 and made available on the Internet by DRCNet.

Permission to Reprint: This content is licensed under a modified Creative Commons Attribution license. Content of a purely educational nature in Drug War Chronicle appear courtesy of DRCNet Foundation, unless otherwise noted.


Anonymous (not verified)

It is not politically correct to stop those people "of color", despite overwhelming evidence that male American-Africans (sic) and South Americans are statistically far more likely to be involved in drug trafficking offenses than any other ethnic groups. It is similar to the objections raised about closely monitoring middle Eastern males aged fifteen to forty in airports. Sooo, we target little old ladies in wheelchairs for full body searches just to insure that justice has on a blindfold... Incidentally, the term "politically correct" originated during the Stalin era in the Soviet Union. I wonder where we might locate a gulag or two? Innocent

Sat, 11/25/2006 - 6:38pm Permalink
Anonymous (not verified)

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

I agree with Anonymous about the politically incorrect label that is attached to certain actions our government and police take to predict the probability of criminal acts against our well being or safety. Without dought many of those who enforce our laws or supposedly protect us are thugs of the first order.Many of the bullies and trouble makers in my classes when I was in high school are now in the upper levels of my hometown police force. Profiling is done everyday by everyone of all sexes,ages,colors,races,religions,and on and on and on. The real problem is the abuse of profiling. A simple example of this abuse could be in the case of an outbreak of window air conditioners. Only people that would be physically capable of lifting and carrying one would considered.That is profiling. People to small,crippled,blind,bedridden wouldn't fit the profile of someone likely to steal air conditioners.In this example profiling saves time and other resources needed to find the real culprits.ONLY when one group of people are singled out of the larger pool of possible suspects is PROFILING completely dishonest,sexist,racist,or discriminatory. Since the attack on the WTC when nearly all the people that carried the attack out were Saudi Arabians few people would be worried if a group of Born Again Pentacostals were praying on their plane flight. But the same can't be said about a group of passengers of middle eastern descent. Profiling should and must be used in some situations by law enforcement agencies,but not without a system of safeguards and impartial observers to insure that profiling is never allowed to run wildly and carelessly with no accountability to our fellow citizens. John Cavallero

Sun, 11/26/2006 - 4:29am Permalink
Anonymous (not verified)

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

If you really want to be politically correct--statistically, white, hasidic jewish women are the number one culprits of drug trafficing--especially with respect to smuggling drugs by way of flying. Look it up!

Signed--Anonymous, but more informed than you!

Mon, 02/05/2007 - 5:44pm Permalink
Anonymous (not verified)

Let us be clear. It is a crime to both posses illegal narcotics for use and sale. Whites make up the largest group of drug users in the US. Furthermore any statistic regarding the rate of involvement in the drug sale is in reference to convictions. It is known that black suspects are more likely to be convicted of drug offenses vs. their white peers for the same crime (and in some cases where the white suspect has actually MORE drugs on their person).

That said, since Blacks make up less than 19% of Turnpike users and whites make up the majority of users, then it is clear that the police, even if profiling are sending a message that drug users are OK. After all one is more likely to be stopped IF one fits the supposed profile of a seller rather than a user.

Also, one officer was quotes as saying something about "violators". The fact is that the average speed, which is usually the basis of such stops, on the Turnpike is about 80 MPH and increases as one goes south as traffic generally lightens. Therefore to act as if black motorists are somehow more prone to break speed limit laws is ridiculous as the offices know full well that just about every person on the Turnpike is going above the speed limit UNTIL they spot an officer. So given this fact it would seem that officers are particularly targetting black speeders for having the gall to drive like every other motorist on the Turnpike.

What is really at the heart of the profiling on the Turnpike are speed limit laws (as well as other obscure laws on the books) that allow police to harrass motorists. The whole speed thing is a corrupt system that sticks motorists not only for the 265+ ticket but also with increased insurance costs and threats to their livelihoods by judges, some of whome think they are morally superior to those 'caught" speeding.

So the way to put a damper on profiling is to put an end to the "excuse" that State Troopers use to do so. Speed limit laws ought to be revised with sensible alternatives. More enforcement of hazardous driving situations such as left lane sitting, tailgating, improper lane changing and the like would not only make the roads safer but also take away the No., 1 excuse that State Troopers use to victimize moterists.

Mon, 11/27/2006 - 11:27am Permalink
Anonymous (not verified)

a response to the first comment: the reason more african americans are convicted of drug offenses is because they are more likely to be suspected, investigated, and arrested by police (due to the correlation of race and poverty and - what is relevant here - police racism). their higher rate of conviction is then used to justify further harrassment, thus continuing the cycle.

i would distinguish this situation from the recognition that a particular group of terrorists do, IN FACT, all share demographic characteristics (that said, remember mcveigh? he was white). but what we are talking about in NJ is not narrowing down a list of suspects, it is selective enforcement of the law.


Tue, 11/28/2006 - 10:17pm Permalink

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