Portraits in Prejudice

Straight Talk About 'Big Brother,' White Women, Suspicious Blacks, Unruly Latinos, and Racial Profiling Says How Race Is REALLY Lived in America

DePompo is annoyed that such criminals aren't summarily punished. "It is amazing that our p.c. society has come to the point where we are to cower down to people like this instead of giving them what they rightfully deserve. Jail time!" He ends by urging me to open my eyes and "see what is really going on in this city—see what the police and good citizens" like him must deal with every day. "Maybe you should start writing about the victims of the lowlifes and criminals," he advises.

I write about commuters DePompo probably would like to see stopped for driving while black. In another letter to me, an unidentified black New Yorker recalls the flap over a 1996 photograph that shows New Jersey's Republican governor, Christine Whitman, frisking a black man on a Camden street corner during a state police drug raid. The photograph, taken by an officer, was subpoenaed in May by black and Latino troopers who claim their superiors discriminated against them.

Some criticize Whitman for participating in an illegal search. Blacks say the picture demonstrates racial profiling and harassment, and is a prime example of official racism. Whitman's first term opened with a scandal about a campaign adviser who bragged about payoffs to black church leaders. Later, in an interview with a British newspaper, Whitman, who amazingly is viewed as a "moderate" Republican, spoke of a game supposedly played by black males with the goal of impregnating girls. She later apologized for the remark.

In 1998, a year into her second term, two troopers on the New Jersey Turnpike wounded three minority passengers in a van. The shooting triggered protests and internal investigations of racial profiling: the practice of stopping motorists strictly on the basis of race. Since then, Whitman has fired the head of the state police, admitted that troopers targeted black motorists statewide, and promised to end racial profiling. Protesters who claim Whitman has been insensitive to minorities plan demonstrations against her timed with the Republican National Convention. One will take place on the Camden waterfront just across the Delaware River from Philadelphia and about a dozen blocks from the corner where she was photographed smilingly frisking the black suspect.

The black letter writer does not mince words. "If Christine Whitman's daughter had been stopped by the police in a random search and Al Sharpton, who was riding with the police to monitor stop searches, was given permission by the police to pat search her child, everybody would have been outraged. For Whitman to scream that this is all politics is missing the point. This is about somebody who has no jurisdiction to search an innocent person twice. It is about the dehumanizing of an innocent member of one race. How must this poor man feel? It was so easy for her to search this man and to see nothing wrong with the illegal procedure. Clearly the humanity of this person never mattered."

Whitman refuses to apologize. "Did I step over a line from being an observer to a participant that I shouldn't have and didn't need to in that instance? Yes,' she said in an interview with the Associated Press. "But unfortunately that is my nature. When they said, 'do you want to do it,' I said sure, without thinking, and I should have thought. That's really the tragedy of having all this happen. Dumb? Yes. OK, fine. But not racist. Not callous, not racism. He was just the person that was a suspect."

Additional reporting: Amanda Ward

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