BY MAURICE WILLIAMS AND BROCK SATTER
NEWARK, New Jersey - New Jersey governor Christine Whitman has been engulfed in a political crisis as her administration attempts to head off mounting outrage and protests against police brutality and racism. A debate over "racial profiling" - police targeting drivers who are Black and Latino to stop and search on the highway - has been heating up for months. The death of one innocent man in police custody and six-day jailing of another in Orange in April sparked protests numbering in the hundreds. Protests across the Hudson River against the killing of Amadou Diallo by police in New York City have also had an impact.
On April 19, State Attorney General Peter Verniero announced the indictment of two highway patrol cops on 19 misdemeanor charges, including lying on public documents and conducting illegal searches. James Kenna and John Hogan are accused of reporting the race of Blacks they pulled over on the turnpike as white on their daily patrol logs in an attempt to cover up the "racial profiling."
Kenna and Hogan are the same cops who fired 11 shots into a van of Black and Latino youth on the New Jersey Turnpike a year ago. They are awaiting a grand jury's ruling on possible criminal charges in connection with that shooting. Last month two State Superior Court judges in Mercer County dis missed charges against Glenford Goodell and Omar Gittens, both of whom were arrested in 1997 highway stops by Hogan and Kenna.
The day after Verniero's announcement, Whitman acknowledged at a news conference that "racial profiling exists," after denying it for years. The attorney general also said the state was dropping its appeal of a 1996 decision by a Superior Court judge to dismiss criminal charges against 17 people in Gloucester County who were stopped by state troopers because they were Black. The judge found that Blacks were nearly five times as likely as whites to be stopped by state troopers.
It's in this context that a conflict erupted over the Republican governor's appointment of Verniero to the State Supreme Court.
Members of the state legislature's Black and Latino Caucus announced May 4 they would oppose confirmation of Verniero to the post because of his lukewarm response to the "racial profiling" controversy. "The Attorney General has done nothing more than stonewall efforts by the caucus to get at the truth behind the allegations of racial profiling in the state police ranks," declared state Sen. Wayne Bryant, a member of the caucus.
The New Jersey Bar Association also refused to support Verniero and Republicans in the state legislature threatened to break an arrangement in which the bar association lends its name to candidates for judicial and prosecutorial positions. An angry Whitman said the bar had conducted a "smear campaign" against her nominee.
The legislature narrowly confirmed Verniero's appointment to the judge's bench May 10 by a vote of 21 to 18.
Rev. Reginald Jackson, executive director of the Black Minister's Council of New Jersey, called the appointment a slap in the face. Jackson, who led a demonstration on April 23 of 200 protesters in Trenton, New Jersey, called for an "outside monitor [to] be appointed to watch the state police."
Whitman dumps top state cop
Whitman had earlier fired the superintendent of the New Jersey State Police, Carl Williams, on February 28 for making racist remarks during an interview with the New Jersey Star Ledger published that same day. In it he attempted to justify the cops' blatant targeting of Blacks and Latinos.
"Today with this drug problem, the drug problem is cocaine or marijuana. It's most likely a minority group that's involved with that," Williams told the newspaper. "The president of the United States went to Mexico to talk the president of Mexico about drugs. He didn't go to Ireland. He didn't go to England."
Another black eye for the Whitman administration came when hotel workers went public to expose the state cops' Hotel- Motel Program - a snoop and snitch operation aimed at Latinos and West Indian immigrants. This trampling of civil liberties involve allowing police to paw through credit card receipts and registration forms of all guests at the hotels along the turnpike, under the pretext of searching for drug smugglers.
Hotel workers were recruited as informers with instructions from the cops alleging "that much of the illegal narcotics in the area is shipped from South and Central America and the Caribbean," the New York Times reported April 29. Clo Smith, a front desk clerk at the Holiday Inn near Newark International Airport, said the cops in a 1996 seminar suggested that Spanish-speaking guests should be viewed with more suspicion than English speakers.
The racist discrimination by state troopers is reflected in the results of a study conducted by the attorney general's office. According to the report, from 1994 to 1999 Blacks and Latinos made up 77 percent of people whose vehicles were searched on the turnpike by state cops. Of the 2,871 people arrested, 62 percent were Black.
Dorothy Cobbs, who was pulled over by a two-time "Trooper of the Year" on New Jersey's Garden State Parkway in 1996, told how the cop "hit me again and again. I was screaming for help and I couldn't see" after being sprayed with Mace. She was testifying at an April 20 public hearing called by the Black and Latino Caucus of the state legislature. The state agreed March 17 this year to pay Cobbs $225,000 to settle a civil lawsuit she had filed.
"To this day, I still don't know why we got shot," said Leroy Grant, one of the four men shot by highway patrol cops Kenna and Hogan on April 23, 1998. "It's been mentally, physically hard for us. The bullets are still lodged in our bodies."
The youth announced at a press conference last month that they are filing civil lawsuits against the state, the two troopers who shot them, their supervisors, and the New Jersey State Police, charging the cop agency with violating their constitutional rights
The Whitman administration's admission that state cops targeted Blacks on the New Jersey highway opens the door for a class action lawsuit filed against the state and could lead to the dismissal of possibly thousands of cases. The U.S. Department of Justice has signed consent decrees involving cop brutality with the city administrations of Pittsburgh and Steubenville, Ohio. The agreement entails supposed reforms of the police department, including training guidelines for cops. A spokesman for the Justice Department said New Jersey government officials are working on a similar arrangement. Several other states have pending legislation that proponents claim will address "racial profiling," including Massachusetts, Maryland, Florida, Virginia, and Rhode Island.
Pro-cop campaign backfires
In an attempt to regain some lost credibility and stem the political damage caused by the state trooper debacle, New Jersey government officials and the capitalist media whipped up a pro-cop, anticrime barrage after Orange cop Joyce Carnegie was killed April 8. Carnegie was repeatedly described as a "good cop," who "remained engaged with the people." Gov. Whitman, other government officials, and Jackson of the Black Ministers Council attended Carnegie's April 14 wake. Some 5,000 cops attended the funeral the next day.
In this atmosphere, the police went on a rampage. On April 10 masked cops armed with semiautomatic rifles stormed into the house of Terrance Everett, a 24-year-old warehouse worker. They set off smoke bombs, attacked Everett's parents and wife, who is pregnant, and arrested him. The cops came from Orange, East Orange, Newark, the Essex County Sheriff's Department, the State Division of Criminal Justice, New Jersey State Police, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms State Division, the FBI, and New Jersey Transit. Everett, who was also beaten by the cops, was released six days later after a restaurant manager told the news media that the young man had been eating there at the time Carnegie was killed.
The day after brutalizing Everett, the cops picked up Earl Faison and James Coker. Faison died after an hour in police custody; his relatives say he was beaten to death by Orange police. Coker remains in jail. Several day later, another man, Condell Woodson, was arrested and now faces charges of killing the cop.
Outrage among working people exploded in the face of the
cops' offensive. In Orange, two protests of several hundred
people protested the death of Faison. The organizers of these
demonstrations, People Organized for Progress, have called
another action in Newark on May 19 to commemorate Malcolm X's
birthday and protest police brutality.
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