Pubdate: Sun, 20 June 1999 
Source: The New York Times Magazine 
Copyright: 1999 The New York Times Company
Author: Jeffrey Goldberg
Note: This is part one of two parts.


From The Front Seat Of A Police Cruiser, Racial Profiling Is Not Racism.
It's A Tool -- And Cops Have No Intention Of Giving It Up. 

Sgt. Mike Lewis of the Maryland State Police is a bull-necked,
megaphone-voiced, highly caffeinated drug warrior who, on this shiny May
morning outside of Annapolis, is conceding defeat.

The drug war is over, the good guys have lost and he has been cast as a
racist. "This is the end, buddy," he says. "I can read the writing on the
wall." Lewis is driving his unmarked Crown Victoria down the fast lane of
Route 50, looking for bad guys. The back of his neck is burnt by the sun,
and he wears his hair flat and short under his regulation Stetson. "They're
going to let the N.A.A.C.P. tell us how to do traffic stops," he says.
"That's what's happening.

There may be a few troopers who make stops solely based on race, but this
- -- they're going to let these people tell us how to run our department. I
say, to hell with it all. I don't care if the drugs go through.

I don't." He does, of course.

Mike Lewis was born to seize crack.

He grew up in Salisbury, on the Eastern Shore -- Jimmy Buffett country --
and he watched his friends become stoners and acid freaks.

Not his scene.

He buzz-cut his hair away and joined the state troopers when he was 19.
He's a star, the hard-charger who made one of the nation's largest seizures
of crack cocaine out on Route 13. He's a national expert on hidden
compartments. He can tell if a man's lying, he says, by watching the
pulsing of the carotid artery in his neck. He can smell crack cocaine
inside a closed automobile. He's a human drug dog, a walking polygraph
machine. "I have the unique ability to distinguish between a law-abiding
person and an up-to-no-good person," he says. "Black or white." All these
skills, though, he's ready to chuck.

The lawsuits accusing the Maryland State Police of harassing black drivers,
the public excoriation -- and most of all, the Governor of New Jersey
saying that her state police profiled drivers based on race, and were wrong
to do so -- have twisted him up inside. "Three of my men have put in for
transfers," he says. "My wife wants me to get out. I'm depressed." What
depresses Mike Lewis is that he believes he is in possession of a truth
polite society is too cowardly to accept.

He says that when someone tells this particular truth, his head is handed
to him. "The superintendent of the New Jersey State Police told the truth
and he got fired for it," Lewis says. This is what Carl Williams said,
fueling a national debate about racial profiling in law enforcement:
"Today, with this drug problem, the drug problem is cocaine or marijuana.

It is most likely a minority group that's involved with that." Gov.
Christine Todd Whitman fired Williams, and the news ricocheted through
police departments everywhere, especially those, like the Maryland State
Police, already accused of racial profiling -- the stopping and searching
of blacks because they are black. The way cops perceive blacks -- and how
those perceptions shape and misshape crime fighting -- is now the most
charged racial issue in America. The systematic harassment of black drivers
in New Jersey, the shooting of Amadou Diallo, an unarmed African immigrant,
by New York City police officers earlier this year, and other incidents in
other states have brought the relationship between blacks and cops to a
level of seemingly irreversible toxicity. Neither side understands the other.

The innocent black man, jacked-up and humiliated during a stop-and-frisk or
a pretext car stop, asks: Whatever happened to the Fourth Amendment? It is
no wonder, blacks say, that the police are so wildly mistrusted. And then
there's the cop, who says: Why shouldn't I look at race when I'm looking
for crime?

It is no state secret that blacks commit a disproportionate amount of
crime, so "racial profiling" is simply good police work. Mike Lewis wishes
that all this talk of racial profiling would simply stop.

As we drive, Lewis watches a van come up on his right and pass him. A young
black man is at the wheel, his left leg hanging out the window.

The blood races up Lewis's face: "Look at that! That's a violation!

You can't drive like that! But I'm not going to stop him. No, sir. If I do,
he's just going to call me a racist." Then Lewis notices that the van is a
state government vehicle. "This is ridiculous," he says. Lewis hits his

The driver stops.

Lewis issues him a warning and sends him on his way. The driver says
nothing. "He didn't call me a racist," Lewis says, pulling into traffic,
"but I know what he was thinking." Lewis does not think of himself as a
racist. "I know how to treat people," he says. "I've never had a complaint
based on a race-based stop. I've got that supercharged knowledge of the
Constitution that allows me to do this right." In the old days, when he was
patrolling the Eastern Shore, it was white people he arrested. "Ninety-five
percent of my drug arrests were dirt-ball-type whites -- marijuana, heroin,
possession-weight. Then I moved to the highway, I start taking off two,
three kilograms of coke, instead of two or three grams.

Black guys. Suddenly I'm not the greatest trooper in the world.

I'm a racist.

I'm locking up blacks, but I can't help it." His eyes gleam: "Ask me how
many white people I've ever arrested for cocaine smuggling -- ask me!" I
ask. "None! Zero! I debrief hundreds of black smugglers, and I ask them,
'Why don't you hire white guys to deliver your drugs?' They just laugh at
me. 'We ain't gonna trust our drugs with white boys.' That's what they
say." Mike Lewis's dream: "I dream at night about arresting white people
for cocaine. I do. I try to think of innovative ways to arrest white males.

But the reality is different." A big part of Lewis's reality is a black man
named Keith Hill. Lewis killed Keith Hill three years ago. Hill was
speeding down Route 13 when Lewis pulled him over. He approached the car,
Hill rolled down the window and Lewis smelled burning marijuana.

He ordered Hill out of the car, began to search him and came up with
thousands of dollars of cash and packets of marijuana. Hill suddenly resisted.

What flashed through Lewis's mind was his friend Edward Plank, a trooper
killed by a coke runner on this same highway a few months before. They
fought, Hill knocking Lewis into a ravine.

They wrestled, and Hill went for Lewis's gun. "We were in a clinch, just
breathing heavy," Lewis recalls, "and I said, 'Man, it's just pot, it's not
worth it."' But Hill kept going for the gun, Lewis tells me. He couldn't
get it, and ran. He looped through a housing development and back to his
car. Hill gunned the engine just as Lewis got himself in front of the car.
Lewis drew his weapon and fired, striking Hill twice in the chest. Lewis
speaks often of the shooting, and of Eddie Plank's death.

One day, he collects for me old newspaper stories of trooper shootouts.

I'm reading them when we pass two members of his interdiction squad parked
on the median of Route 13. They've stopped two cars with New York license
plates filled with young black men. "What's up?" Lewis asks Gary Bromwell,
a bulky, sullen trooper. The two cars were pulled over for speeding and
weaving, but that was a pretext. The goal of Lewis's unit, the
criminal-interdiction unit, is to find drugs, guns and untaxed cigarettes
in the cars of smugglers.

However, in order to stop a suspected gunrunner or drug mule, troopers
first have to find a reason in the state's traffic laws. Bromwell issues
written warnings and sends them on their way. I ask Bromwell, who is white,
why he didn't ask the young men their consent to search the cars.
Reasonable suspicion -- anything the trooper can articulate before a judge
- -- is enough to justify a consent search. "They're decent people," Bromwell
says. How can you tell? "They looked me in the eye, and the driver's hand
didn't shake when he handed me his license." Lewis interrupts: "No visible
sign of contraband, no overwhelming odor of air fresheners emanating from
the vehicle, no signs of hard driving" -- that is, driving long hours
without making stops.

He is listing Drug Enforcement Administration-endorsed indicators of drug

Smugglers use air fresheners to fool drug-sniffing dogs. Signs of hard
driving -- these guys drive straight through because they don't want to
leave their drugs alone," Lewis says -- include loose-fitting clothing,
day-old beards and food wrappers on the floor.

These signs, though, can also indicate the presence of college students --
which is, in fact, the case here. Did you stop them because they were black
men from New York? I ask. "Tell you the truth," Bromwell says, "we couldn't
see who was driving these cars. They were speeding." After the New York
cars pull into traffic, Lewis shows Bromwell and his partner, Rob Penny,
the newspaper clippings, hoping they will back him up. "Eddie Plank," he
says. "Killed by a black male. My shooting -- a black. Robbie Bishop, down
in Georgia, killed by a black.

North Carolina trooper, killed by a black." Bromwell looks uneasy.

I ask him if he believes in a connection between the race of the shooters
and the crimes they commit. "People might think it," Bromwell says, walking
away, "but they don't say it." He flashes Lewis a look that says, Shut up,
and quick. Why a Cop Profiles This is what a cop might tell you in a moment
of reckless candor: in crime fighting, race matters.

When asked, most cops will declare themselves color blind. But watch them
on the job for several months, and get them talking about the way policing
is really done, and the truth will emerge, the truth being that cops, white
and black, profile.

Here's why, they say. African-Americans commit a disproportionate
percentage of the types of crimes that draw the attention of the police.

Blacks make up 12 percent of the population, but accounted for 58 percent
of all carjackers between 1992 and 1996. (Whites accounted for 19 percent.)
Victim surveys -- and most victims of black criminals are black -- indicate
that blacks commit almost 50 percent of all robberies.

Blacks and Hispanics are widely believed to be the blue-collar backbone of
the country's heroin- and cocaine-distribution networks. Black males
between the ages of 14 and 24 make up 1.1 percent of the country's
population, yet commit more than 28 percent of its homicides. Reason, not
racism, cops say, directs their attention. Cops, white and black, know one
other thing: they're not the only ones who profile. Civilians profile all
the time -- when they buy a house, or pick a school district, or walk down
the street.

Even civil rights leaders profile. "There is nothing more painful for me at
this stage in my life," Jesse Jackson said several years ago, "than to walk
down the street and hear footsteps and start thinking about robbery -- and
then look around and see somebody white and feel relieved." Jackson now
says his quotation was "taken out of context." The context, he said, is
that violence is the inevitable byproduct of poor education and health
care. But no amount of "context" matters when you fear that you are about
to be mugged. At a closed-door summit in Washington between police chiefs
and black community leaders recently, the black chief of police of
Charleston, S.C., Reuben Greenberg, argued that the problem facing black
America is not racial profiling, but precisely the sort of black-on-black
crime Jackson was talking about. "I told them that the greatest problem in
the black community is the tolerance for high levels of criminality," he
recalled. "Fifty percent of homicide victims are African-Americans. I asked
what this meant about the value of life in this community." The police
chief in Los Angeles, Bernard Parks, who is black, argues that racial
profiling is rooted in statistical reality, not racism. "It's not the fault
of the police when they stop minority males or put them in jail," Parks
told me. "It's the fault of the minority males for committing the crime. In
my mind it is not a great revelation that if officers are looking for
criminal activity, they're going to look at the kind of people who are
listed on crime reports." Chief Parks defends vigorously the idea that
police can legitimately factor in race when building a profile of a
criminal suspect. "We have an issue of violent crime against jewelry
salespeople," Parks says. "The predominant suspects are Colombians. We
don't find Mexican-Americans, or blacks or other immigrants. It's a
collection of several hundred Colombians who commit this crime.

If you see six in a car in front of the Jewelry Mart, and they're waiting
and watching people with briefcases, should we play the percentages and
follow them? It's common sense." What if you follow the wrong Colombian, or
track an Ecuadorean by mistake? "We're not using just race," he says. "It's
got to be race, plus other indicators, so that won't happen." I asked Parks
to comment on the 3-out-of-10 hypothetical. In Maryland, the state police,
as part of a settlement of an American Civil Liberties Union lawsuit,
reported that on a particular stretch of highway, the police came up with
drugs in 3 out of every 10 consent searches.

This was deemed unacceptable by the A.C.L.U. "Three out of 10?" Parks said.
"That would get you into the Hall of Fame. That's a success story." He
continued: "At some point, someone figured out that the drugs are being
delivered by males of this color driving these kinds of vehicles at this
time of night.

This isn't brain surgery.

The profile didn't get invented for nothing." Profiling in Black and White
"Some blacks, I just get the sense off them that they're wild," Mark
Robinson says. "I mean, you can tell. I have what you might call a profile.
I pull up alongside a car with black males in it. Something doesn't match
- -- maybe the style of the car with the guys in it. I start talking to them,
you know, 'nice car,' that kind of thing, and if it doesn't seem right, I
say, 'All right, let's pull it over to the side,' and we go from there." He
is quiet and self-critical, and the words sat in his mouth a while before
he let them out. "I'm guilty of it, I guess." Guilty of what? "Racial
profiling." His partner, Gene Jones, says: "Mark is good at finding stolen
cars on the street. Real good." We are driving late one sticky Saturday
night through the beat-down neighborhood of Logan, in the northern reaches
of Philadelphia. The nighttime commerce is lively, lookouts holding down
their corners, sellers ready to serve the addict traffic.

It's a smorgasbord for the two plainclothes officers, but their attention
is soon focused on a single cluster of people, four presumptive buyers who
are hurrying inside a spot the officers know is hot with drugs. The
officers pull to the curb, slide out and duck behind a corner, watching the
scene unfold.

The suspects are wearing backward baseball caps and low-slung pants; the
woman with them is dressed like a stripper. "Is this racial profiling?"
Jones asks. A cynical half-smile shows on his face. The four buyers are white.

Jones and Robinson are black, veterans of the street who know that white
people in a black neighborhood will be stopped. Automatically. Faster than
a Rastafarian in Scarsdale. "No reason for them to be around here at this
time of night, nope," Jones says. Is it possible that they're visiting
college friends?

I ask. Jones and Robinson, whose intuition is informed by experience, don't
know quite what to make of my suggestion. "It could be," Jones says,
indulgently. "But, uhhhh, no way." Are you going to stop them? "I don't
know what for yet, but I'm going to stop them." The whites step out of the
building, separate and dissolve into the night before Jones gets to make
his stop. Jones is unhappy; he's proud of his tracking skills. "They're
hard to see in the dark, I guess," he says, smiling. So, race is a
legitimate proxy for criminality? "No," Jones says. Few cops ever answer
yes at the outset. "But it depends. I mean, you're a cop. You know who's
committing the crimes.

It's your neighborhood. That's how it works." Jones and Robinson are
assigned to Philadelphia's 35th Police District, one of the more
drug-ridden districts in a drug-ridden city. Certain sections of
Philadelphia are still very much lawless.

Last year, the city hired John Timoney, who served as first deputy
commissioner under William Bratton in New York City, to revive a police
department that had become tragically inept. Timoney, by all accounts, has
done a remarkable job reforming the department, and letting the criminal
underclass know that their actions will bring consequences. But
Philadelphia is not quite Rudolph Giuliani's New York. Jones and Robinson
are surprised to hear, for instance, that the smoking of marijuana in
public places is actively discouraged by New York police.

They express this surprise after they try to clear a drug corner of young
men who continue smoking fat blunts even after Robinson and Jones alert
them to the fact that they are in the presence of law-enforcement officers.
"You know, the city is cracking down on marijuana smoking," Jones tells the
men. They stub out their joints -- but not before one man takes one last,
deep drag -- and move across the street. Jones shakes his head and says,
"It's like there aren't any laws out here."

Like many black cops, Jones and Robinson have more in common with their
white colleagues than they do with, say, the Rev. Al Sharpton. "The problem
with black politicians is that they think the cop is automatically guilty,"
Jones says. One day, while driving through a particularly rank stretch of
their police district, Jones decides that I should interview drug dealers
on the subject of police harassment and racial profiling.

The point he hopes to make is that the complaints of racial harassment are
illegitimate. Jones approaches one group of dealers, heavy-lidded young men
drinking 40-ounce bottles of malt liquor.

One dealer, who gives his name as Si-Bee, is asked by Jones whether the
police are harassing young blacks or simply enforcing the law. "Why can't I
just sit on my corner?" Si-Bee says in response. "Unless you've got
probable cause, you can't come and harass me." To which Jones replied:
"Whoa. Probable cause.

Big word." "Cops come busting on us for no reason," a young man named
Mustafa says. "It's just plain and simple harassment. Just messing with
us." "Which are worse?" Jones asks. "White cops or black cops?" "Black,"
comes the reply, virtually in unison. We return to the car, and Jones
laughs: "That one," he says, pointing out the window, "I arrested for dealing.

That one we got in a stolen car. That one, the one who wouldn't talk to me,
I arrested two months ago. I'm going to court soon to testify against him."
We stop at another corner, another group of feckless youth.

Same questions, same responses.

I decide to switch subjects.

Instead of talking about Philadelphia, I want to know what happens when
they drive the New Jersey Turnpike. "That's the worst," one young man says.
"I never ride the turnpike." I turn to Jones, waiting for a smirk. It never
comes. "I'm going to have to agree with the brother on that one," he says.
What? Jones, it turns out, is a staff sergeant in the New Jersey National
Guard. "Yeah, when I go to Jersey for Guard weekends, I take the back
roads," he says. "I won't get on the turnpike.

I won't mess with those troopers." 'Driving While Black,' and Other
Exaggerations Here's the heart of the matter, as Chief Greenberg of
Charleston sees it: "You got white cops who are so dumb that they can't
make a distinction between a middle-class black and an underclass black,
between someone breaking the law and someone just walking down the street.

Black cops too. The middle class says: 'Wait a minute.

I've done everything right, I pushed all the right buttons, went to all the
right schools, and they're jacking me up anyway.' That's how this starts."
So is racism or stupidity the root cause of racial profiling? Governor
Whitman, it seems, would rather vote for stupidity. "You don't have to be
racist to engage in racial profiling," she says. We are sitting in her
office in the State House in Trenton. She still seems a bit astonished that
her state has become the Mississippi of racial profiling. Whitman, though
burned by the behavior of her state troopers, is offering them a generous
dispensation, given her definition of racial profiling. "Profiling means a
police officer using cumulative knowledge and training to identify certain
indicators of possible criminal activity," she told me. "Race may be one of
those factors, but it cannot stand alone." "Racial profiling," she
continues, "is when race is the only factor. There's no other probable
cause." Her narrow, even myopic, definition suggests that only stone
racists practice racial profiling.

But the mere sight of black skin alone is not enough to spin most cops into
a frenzy. "Police chiefs use that word 'solely' all the time, and it's such
a red herring," says Randall Kennedy, Harvard Law professor and author of
the book "Race, Crime and the Law." "Even Mark Fuhrman doesn't act solely
on the basis of race." The real question about racial profiling is this: Is
it ever permissible for a law-enforcement officer to use race as one of
even 5, or 10, or 20, indicators of possible criminality? In other words,
can the color of a man's skin help make him a criminal suspect? Yes,
Whitman says. She suggests she doesn't have a problem with the use of race
as one of several proxies for potential criminality. "I look at Barry
McCaffrey's Web site," she says, referring to the Clinton Administration's
drug czar, "and it says certain ethnic groups are more likely to engage in
drug smuggling." It is true. Despite President Clinton's recent declaration
that racial profiling is "morally indefensible," the Office of National
Drug Control Policy's Web site helpfully lists which racial groups sell
which drugs in different cities.

In Denver, McCaffrey's Web site says, it is "minorities, Mexican nationals"
who sell heroin.

In Trenton, "crack dealers are predominantly African-American males,
powdered cocaine dealers are predominantly Latino." The link between racial
minorities and drug-selling is exactly what Whitman's former police
superintendent, Carl Williams, was talking about. So was Williams wrong?
"His comments indicated a lack of sensitivity to the seriousness of the
problem." But was he wrong on the merits? "If he said, 'You should never
use this solely; race could be a partial indicator, taken in concert with
other factors"' -- she pauses, sees the road down which she's heading, and
puts it in reverse -- but you can't be that broad-brushed." "Racial
profiling," is a street term, not a textbook concept.

[continued in part two]

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