ACLU Takes Battle to End Racial Profiling to the Turnpike
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
NEWARK, NJ – – The American Civil Liberties Union and cooperating law firms today launched a paid media campaign in New Jersey — including a highway billboard — condemning the practice of racial profiling on the New Jersey Turnpike and urging victims of the practice to come forward to protect their rights.
“Racial profiling violates our Constitution’s promise of equal protection and the right to be presumed innocent,” said Edward Barocas, Legal Director for the ACLU of New Jersey. “No person should be stopped and searched simply because of the color of their skin. Unfortunately, that is exactly what New Jersey admits its State Troopers did.”
In fact, in April of this year, New Jersey Attorney General John Farmer testified before the state Senate Judiciary Committee that racial profiling on the New Jersey Turnpike was still occurring.
The media campaign kicks off today with the posting of a 16′ x 60′ billboard along the New Jersey Turnpike, the site of many of the State Police’s racial profiling infractions. The billboard shows two men of color. “Stopped or Searched by the New Jersey State Police?” the text reads. “They admit to racial profiling. You might win money damages. Call the ACLU hotline: 1-877 -6-PROFILE.”
The billboard is located on the eastern spur of the New Jersey Turnpike between Exit 13 and Exit 12, near Newark Airport, and can be viewed online at http://archive.aclu.org/graphics/newbill2.jpg.
In addition to buying the billboard space, the group is preparing to run print advertisements in New Jersey newspapers and broadcast radio ads on stations in range of the I-95 corridor in New Jersey.
“This media campaign is part of the national ACLU’s ongoing program to show that racial profiling is bad policing and the cause of much resentment,” said King Downing, Coordinator of the ACLU’s Campaign Against Racial Profiling. “We hope the billboard will bring new lawsuits that will help the ACLU once and for all put the lid on racial profiling in New Jersey.”
The ad campaign grows out of two cases: Morka, et al. v. State of New Jersey, et al., which was filed in state court in 1997 and involves 12 individuals; and White, et al. v. Williams, et al., a federal case which was filed in 1999 in U.S. District Court in Camden on behalf of four individuals.
Since April 1999, when then-Attorney General Peter Verniero released a report admitting to the practice of racial profiling by New Jersey State Police, attorneys from both sides had been in settlement talks. However, attorneys for the victims of racial profiling said that while the State has admitted to the unconstitutional practice, it is simply unwilling to take responsibility or to compensate for the damage it has done.
Further, noted Neil Mullin, a cooperating attorney with the ACLU of New Jersey, in December 1999, New Jersey entered into an agreement with the Department of Justice, in which they agreed to remedy the problem of racial profiling in the state. “It is now two years later, the practice still continues and this administration is still resisting making amends to those the State has victimized,” he said.
The claims in both cases are disturbing, Mullin said.
According to legal papers filed in the state case, lead plaintiffs Felix Morka, a Nigerian national, and Laila Maher, an Egyptian American woman of color, were driving along the New Jersey Turnpike in January 1996, when they were pulled over to the side of the highway by the New Jersey State Police.
During the traffic stop, the complaint says, one of the officers began to strangle Morka and slam him repeatedly against his steering wheel. The other officer assaulted Maher by twisting her arm behind her back and throwing her against the car.
Although Maher and Morka tried to file a formal complaint, they were met with resistance by New Jersey police, the lawsuit states. At first they were denied the proper forms to file a complaint, and later the police failed to complete an investigation of their complaint.
“What happened that night has left me feeling uneasy and leery of the police,” said Morka. “Before this happened, I really thought that the police were here for our protection, but now I do not know what to think.”
Dr. Elmo Randolph, another lead plaintiff in the Morka case, is a dentist who drives a luxury car and has been stopped approximately one hundred times without ever receiving a ticket. During many of these stops Dr. Randolph was subjected to searches of his car and lengthy interrogations about his profession and how and where he bought his car.
“Troopers do not have the right to detain me simply because I’m an African-American who owns a nice car. Yet I have had to prove, time and again, that I truly am a dentist and not a thief or a drug dealer. It’s humiliating,” Dr. Randolph said. “It’s now reached the point where I no longer feel free to use the Turnpike and I avoid it whenever possible.”
The federal case involves Thomas White, a decorated Korean War Veteran and retired corrections officer; John McKenzie, also a retired corrections officer; Frederick Hamiel, a newspaper-advertising executive; and Tyrone Hamilton, a juvenile corrections officer. All of the plaintiffs, who are men of color, were stopped without cause in separate incidents on the New Jersey Turnpike between 1997 and 1999. According to the lawsuit, the men were targeted and stopped because of the color of their skin.
“These men could be our friends, neighbors and family members,” said Alan Yatvin, a cooperating attorney with the ACLU of Pennsylvania. “The fact that they were singled out for the indignity of roadside questioning or search of their cars because of their race should shock and horrify every freedom-loving American.”
The attorneys representing the plaintiffs in Morka and Maher v. State of New Jersey, et al., are William H. Buckman in Moorestown, NJ; Neil Mullin of Smith Mullin, P.C. in Montclair, NJ; Lawrence Lustberg and Risa Kaufman in Newark, NJ; and Edward Barocas and J.C. Salyer, of the ACLU of New Jersey in Newark. The attorneys representing the plaintiffs in White v. Williams are Alan Yatvin of the law firm Popper & Yatvin; Stefan Presser of the ACLU of Pennsylvania; David Rudovsky of law firm Kairys & Rudovsky, all located in Philadelphia and William H. Buckman in Moorestown, NJ.
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