Driving While Black

Fear & Loathing on the New Jersey Turnpike

Ruff testified he was told to always ''look beyond the motor vehicle stop [when it involved] a Black man. However, Ruff did not have a strong interest in criminal enforcement and declined to engage in profiling,'' according to the lawyers.

''While on patrol, he often observed troopers [parked] perpendicular to the road...with the high beams or spot-lights on and trained on the turnpike,'' Buckman and Loughry wrote. ''He often saw a car pulled off to the side of the road by another trooper, with the occupants out of the car, and could tell from the radio transmissions that the stop had not been called in. Sometimes he would stop to render backup in these situations, only to be waved off....In some of those situations he would observe a trooper known to engage in profiling pull up to assist and not be waved off.''

In the fall of 1989, after WOR-TV investigative reporter Joe Collum's Without Just Cause uncovered massive evidence of state police racial profiling on the turnpike, Clinton Pagano, a top state police official, compiled an internal report claiming that ''black people of American, Jamaican, and Nigerian background, and Hispanic people...are the people bringing drugs into and transporting them through New Jersey.'' A major portion of Pagano's report, which wound up in the hands of troopers throughout the state, was devoted to so-called intelligence on Jamaican posses. (Pagano, who served at the discretion of the governor, was replaced in 1991.)

According to Buckman and Loughry, troopers in training were shown a video of Jamaicans that one state police official ''admitted was an unsubstantiated and fictionalized presentation intended to impart...that Jamaican posse members are violent. Without attribution or disclaimer, the 'training' film featured scenes from a sensationalized, fictional motion picture entitled 'The Harder They Come.'

''One such scene portrayed a Black man slashing another Black man with a knife,'' the lawyers wrote. ''Other portions of the training video showed...news footage of political rioting in Kingston [that had] nothing to do with drug trafficking. The video also showed a likeness of a Black man with dreadlocks in his hair wearing Jamaican-like garb followed by shots of the same black man with short, well groomed hair and business attire. The voice-over warned that Jamaican posse members can disguise themselves to be indistinguishable from a professional black man.''

Racial profiling for black ''drug couriers'' may have resulted in the arrest of another police veteran on the Florida Turnpike. The key evidence in the case against Miami--Dade County police major Aaron Campbell was a videotape of Campbell's April 9, 1997, encounter with overzealous white sheriff's deputies. Campbell's apprehension for resisting arrest and battery of a police officer was shown on national TV. He would later tell a jury he felt he had been unfairly targeted and stopped by the deputies because he was a black man. The 27-year police veteran maintained that the incident occurred only because the deputies were using a drug-courier profile when they pulled him over for changing lanes without signaling. He said that once they stopped him, the deputies used excessive force, and that he resisted them only in self-defense. A six-member jury convicted Campbell of resisting arrest, but cleared him of a felony charge of using violence.

The practice of racial profiling on the New Jersey Turnpike allegedly has been finessed by some inventive troopers. If a vehicle is headed north, the profiler assumes the occupants are Colombian drug dealers ferrying their contraband to New York. If it's southbound, it contains crack headed for the Carolinas.

Yet even the best racial profilers frequently miss their mark. From 1984 to 1988, Dr. Elmo Randolph, a black dentist from East Orange, New Jersey, who drove a gold-colored BMW, testifed on behalf of the 19 blacks that he was stopped by the state police approximately 100 times on the turnpike.

''He was never issued a ticket or a written warning on any of those occasions,'' according to the attorneys, who recount the doctor's travails in their case histories. ''While traveling the Turnpike he would see the troopers sitting perpendicular [to the road] in a cutout where Route 80 feeds into the Turnpike...to observe traffic. After dark, troopers would train their headlights and/or spotlights onto the highway so that they could look into cars.

''Dr. Randolph frequently observed troopers stop black motorists at night using that method. Most of the times that he was stopped, the trooper would obtain his...credentials and go back to the [cruiser]. He would return shortly with the credentials to the passenger's side of the vehicle. Dr. Randolph would lower his window to be handed the credentials, and the trooper would...look around inside his car. He would be allowed to go on his way, after brief questioning, in most of these instances.''

On several of the stops, however, the officers asked Randolph to open the trunk of his car. ''The troopers never asked to search his trunk, but rather they asked him to open it or if they could look in....On one occasion, when he refused to allow the trooper to [look in the trunk], the officer returned to the [cruiser] and sat there with his credentials for 15 or 20 minutes before returning them...and allowing him to go on his way. Dr. Randolph learned that it was easier to simply allow the troopers to look in his trunk than to assert his constitutional rights. He could not afford to be late for his patients.''

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