In Search of a Right

The 13-year struggle of targets in a racial dragnet reveals the elusive nature of justice

Unlike the New York City Police Department or those of some 35 states, New York's state police do not have an anti-racial-profiling policy, except for guidelines in making vehicle stops. But like the demand for free tuition, the demand for a racial-profiling ban is unlikely to be considered in court. Violette of the attorney general's office refused to comment on the prospects for such a ban.

The 13 intervening years have not made the plaintiffs forget. If anything, the delay has only made it more important to them not to give up, "to show them they can't just wait us out," says Lohr. But none of those who spoke of their views seem likely to take a court win alone as a happy ending. Their stories suggest a longing for a greater justice entirely, for no less than a life of equality, dignity, and freedom.

They demand an ambitious notion of progress, the idea that even in a world of constant threat, no one would be suspect just because of race, religion, or ethnicity. Not just because a court says so, but because the people believe it.

Oneonta student rally, September 1992
photo: Bruce Endries/The Daily Star
Oneonta student rally, September 1992

But their accounts of walking the streets of Oneonta and New York City, of driving on highways all across the land, reflect an opposite reality. "Everywhere you go, you're going to find racism," says plaintiff Harris-Inniss. Sometimes that racism is official.

Some of Lohr's co-plaintiffs said they thought it insane that any black man would choose to live in Oneonta after September 1992. But Lohr says, "At the end of the day, it's no different than anywhere else."

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