New Jersey's Victims of Racial Profiling Call for Justice and Closure 'Enough Already,' Say Advocate

Affiliate: ACLU of New Jersey
October 10, 2001 12:00 am

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NEWARK, NJ – – Victims of racial profiling came together in a news conference today to ask New Jersey to do right by those it has discriminated against and harassed.

“It’s time for the state to be accountable,” said Dr. Elmo Randolph, a dentist who drives a luxury car and has been stopped by police approximately 100 times without ever receiving a ticket. Dr. Randolph was subjected to searches of his car and interrogations about his profession and how and where he bought his car on numerous occasions.

“They have admitted to this discrimination for years now, but the victims have not been compensated and the practice has not subsided. I am still afraid to drive on the Turnpike,” said Randolph.

Dr. Randolph is a plaintiff in the ACLU’s case Morka et al. v. State of New Jersey et. al., which was filed in state court in 1997 and involves 12 individuals. The ACLU is also handling 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.

Both cases have been ongoing for some time, and advocates and victims feel that compensation is long overdue. “It’s about justice,” said Laila Maher, another Morka client. “Until you know the terror and trauma of being mistreated by police, you can’t imagine how much the experience affects you.”

Maher, an Egyptian American woman of color who had just finished law school, and her co-worker Felix Morka, a Nigerian national who at the time headed the International Human Rights Law Group’s work on Africa, 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 one of the officers began to strangle Morka and slam him repeatedly against his steering wheel. The other officer assaulted Maher by holding a gun to her head, 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.

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 in separate incidents on the New Jersey Turnpike between 1997 and 1999.

“As recently as April of this year, Attorney General John Farmer testified before the state Senate Judiciary Committee that racial profiling on the New Jersey Turnpike still occurs,” said Deborah Jacobs, Executive Director of the ACLU of New Jersey. “The state needs to do the right thing: compensate the victims and stop allowing police to base assumptions about people’s conduct on their skin color.”

The ACLU recently posted a billboard inviting other racial profiling victims to call its hotline. “We need to reach the people who don’t know what their rights are,” said Jacobs. “The state may not take this problem seriously, but we do.”

The ACLU represents clients free of charge and will not receive any money awarded to the victims of racial profiling, Jacobs noted. “We’re doing this because we believe that every American has a right to go from one place to another without being targeted by police based on race. We’re a public interest group. It’s about defending victims of discrimination.”

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.

“We can’t understand why the state won’t make greater efforts to resolve these issues,” said Maher. “So many people have suffered from this discrimination and they know it’s wrong. Racial profiling is New Jersey’s shame and will continue to be until it does right by the victims.”

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