CLU Says NJ Officials Still in Denial on Racial Profiling

April 21, 1999 12:00 am

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Wednesday, April 21, 1999

NEWARK, NJ–Countering Governor Whitman’s assertions that evidence of racial profiling is “not something [the state] had any reason to anticipate,” the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey said today that officials have been fighting the issue in a court battle for more than five years.

Based on statistical evidence presented to the court in 1994 and 1995, Judge Robert Francis found in a 1996 decision that a policy of racial profiling was in operation on the New Jersey Turnpike. The court lambasted the “utter failure by the State Police hierarchy to monitor and control…or investigate the many claims of institutional discrimination.”

The state has consistently refuted this evidence and until yesterday had vigorously disputed the court’s findings. Yet hours before officials issued their own report on racial profiling — and one week before the state’s appeal was to be argued in court — word came suddenly that the state had dropped its appeal, the ACLU said.

“What a coincidence that the state decided to drop its appeal in this case on the very day they issue their own report,” said Lenora Lapidus, Legal Director of the ACLU of New Jersey. “If the governor and the attorney general were trying to avoid charges of hypocrisy, they acted about five years too late.”

Expert statistical reports presented at trial in State v. Soto showed that although African Americans comprised only 13.5% of the drivers — and 15% of the vehicles speeding — along a stretch of the Turnpike in South Jersey, they comprised 46.2% of the people stopped by the State Police in that area.

“The state’s decision to withdraw its appeal in the Soto case is only a first step in addressing the problem of racial profiling,” said William Buckman, one of the attorneys representing the defendants in the case. “Governor Whitman and Attorney General Verniero must make a sincere commitment to root out the problem, including massive retraining of police officers.”

But their political ambitions may soon remove them from any direct responsibility. The ACLU noted that Whitman and Verniero attempted to delay arguments in the Soto case until after the date of Verniero’s nomination hearings for a seat on the New Jersey Supreme Court. They only admitted to problems of racial discrimination after failing to secure a delay. Attorney General Verniero is still seeking the court appointment, while Governor Whitman is planning a run for the United States Senate.

“The ACLU is concerned that, while finally showing some leadership, Whitman and Verniero will not stick around to get the job done,” said Acting Executive Director Kevin Keenan. “It’s easy to acknowledge the house is on fire as you run out the door. It is much harder to stay and help put it out.””

At a 2:30 p.m. press conference tomorrow in Newark, the ACLU will give its analysis of the state’s report and issue its own report on a statewide crisis in policing that runs far deeper than racial profiling by the New Jersey State Police.

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