Pubdate: Sun, 03 Dec 2000
Source: Home News Tribune (NJ)
Copyright: 2000 Home News Tribune
Contact:  35 Kennedy Blvd. East Brunswick, NJ 08816


Good Of The State Demands An Apology

The time has come for Christie Whitman to acknowledge her culpability in 
the issue of racial profiling. To this point, the governor's behavior has 
been disheartening: She seeks credit for putting an end to the practice but 
refuses to accept responsibility for allowing it to flourish for six years 
of her term. This tactic is demeaning to the state's minority citizens and 
to the state police. It also reeks of insincerity.

Whitman would have us believe she was unaware of the existence of racial 
profiling until shortly before the state acknowledged it in 1999. This 
would mean she was deaf to years of complaints from blacks; uncurious about 
a 1996 judge's ruling that determined the state was engaged in racial 
profiling; and not told by her attorney general that the U.S. Justice 
Department had begun investigating police profiling in New Jersey. This 
strains credibility.

In the end, however, even if Whitman is telling the truth, she is wrong. As 
governor, she should have been aware of the problem. Ignorance is failure.

Do not doubt that a strong executive could have made a difference. When he 
took office, Jim Florio remembers that several black ministers complained 
about race-based stops. Within a couple of weeks, Florio had told his 
attorney general the practice should be halted; his attorney general had 
relayed the message to the superintendent of police, and the superintendent 
had put forth a memorandum banning the practice. The number of drug arrests 
fell, but so did complaints.

On Thursday, current Police Superintendent Carson Dunbar called a news 
conference to lambaste the press for its continued coverage of profiling, 
saying its criticisms were unfair to police. Dunbar's frustrations are 
understandable, but they should be directed at his governor. By refusing to 
take responsibility for profiling, Whitman leaves the impression that it 
was, and is, a state-police problem. This is not true. Police were 
following orders, both spoken and understood. Appearing with state police 
in Camden on the now infamous night when she had her photo snapped patting 
down a drug suspect -- an innocent man it turned out -- Whitman lent her 
enthusiastic support to aggressive drug-interdiction tactics, even when 
they resulted in the corraling of innocent folk. Many police nevertheless 
acted with integrity and restraint. Others did their job as best they 
understood it. The culpability is not theirs; it is Whitman's and her 

The refusal to take responsibility is doubly onerous because it reduces 
profiling to a conflict between the police and the state's minority 
citizens, an unwinnable and unnecessary war. This presumed conflict turns 
profiling into a political issue, one that politicians are wary of 
tackling. Because of this, legislation banning profiling has been held up 
for more than a year. The truth is profiling is a social problem, and 
politicians from both parties need to be working on it together.

Finally, the governor's actions and inactions are deeply insensitive to the 
state's minority citizens. Many of them have been wronged and deserve an 
apology. Instead, they are met by a head of state who continues to defend 
the very people who should be called to task. Her most egregious support is 
for Peter Verniero, who served as her attorney general at the height of the 
profiling crisis and was appointed to the state Supreme Court largely 
because he denied any knowledge of profiling.

Much of Verniero's testimony looks damning in the face of the recently 
released pages that strongly suggest he was completely conversant with the 
issue long before he acknowledged it publicly. And no one was assuaged by a 
long-overdue but incomplete statement he issued Friday. Whitman, however, 
continues to defend him. If she cared about the issue, she would insist 
that Verniero explain himself fully.

Her behavior is demeaning and disgraceful.
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