The Delaware Memorial Bridge is 15 minutes behind the rear view mirror. You are Northbound in sparce traffic, the overcast day is finally starting to shed light rain. You've never been to Jersey before and thought it was one big oil refinery. Yet, as you look out the windshield green farm land is all you can see. You muse "It looks just like your native south Florida." The highway is an easy drive, two lanes in your direction, dead flat and almost as straight. A relief from the winding hilly stretch in Maryland and the construction in Delaware. Truck traffic is almost non existent having peeled off on an alternate route at the base of the bridge. You are tired having left Dillon South Carolina just after dawn. The previous day's trip up from Boca was uneventful. And, so far today the kids ages 5, 7 and 10 have shown little signs of highway fever. The DVD system in the new Odyssey is keeping them well occupied. Grandmom has dozed off in the passenger's seat and your wife is reading while riding shotgun in the back-back. The voice of Ellen Degeneres on the DVD drowns out the sounds of "Jackson"that echo in your head. As top doc of the busiest ER in the southeast this vacation, even with the long drive, is welcome relief to the nightly parade of drug over doses, shootings, stabbings and other assorted mayhem that normally occupies your waking hours.
You are jolted back to the present as Sally the GPS voice chimes in "Continue straight for 24 miles then turn right." Grandmom stirs. Then in your rearview mirror you spot the red and blue flashing lights. You maintain your position in the right lane and immediately check your speed. "sh*t" you whisper to no one in paricular. "What is the speed limit here?" The lights move closer and it's obvious that this guy is coming for you. You pull to the right shoulder. Grandma startles "What's the matter?"Your wife puts down her book. The DVD drones on but all of a sudden "Finding Nemo" isn't nearly as interesting. There is a loud rap on grandma's window. You button it down. A trooper in rain gear firmly demands paperwork 'license. registration, insurance card!" You fumble through the new vehicle paperwork "Officer it's a new car. I don't have a registration yet just a Florida temp tag." The officer looks down at grandma's feet. Spotting a carton of cigarettes in a bag in the floor well "Whose cigarettes are those?" You reply, "they're mine, bad habit" as you reach over your mother-in -law to give the officer your license and insurance card. You ask "officer, why did you pull me over?" The office retorts " Illegal lane change. i'll be right back!" He walks back to his car.
You put the window up to keep the rain off mom. She asks "Illegal lane change, what is that?" The car is rocked by the wind blast of a passing bus as you tell her you don't know. You do know that you hadn't changed lanes for at least five miles. Long before the the officer was in sight. You look in the rearview and notice another set of flashing lights as another NJ State Police Cruiser pulls up behind the first. A moment later there is another rap on grandma's window The officer's words are unreal "Sir, i'm asking you to consent to a search of your vehicle. Refusal to consent will lead to us obtaining a warrant, towing the vehicle to our facility and searching it there. Do you consent?" "What? You want to search my car. For what!?" " We don't have to tell you why, do you consent? Look bud, we'll tow this thing to our garage unless you say yes, this will go a lot faster and a lot easier if you just let us do our job. whata you say do you consent?" "This is crazy. i'm a doctor. this is my family, we're on vacation..." The officer keys his mike on his vest. "23 needs a truck NB 18." The mike cracles back acknowledgement. The intimidation works. "Ok, Go ahead and search it, you're not gonna find anything wrong."
"I need everyone to exit the vehicle and stand off the shoulder on the grass." "But it's raining!" "Out now" comes the retort! Slowly your family steps into the 75 degree soft summer rain. The evening is turning to night. Two more Crown Vics pull into line behind the first two. You give grandma the only umbrella in the car. Your wife speaks up "Officer, Ok if i get jackets for the kids, they're in the back?' "No ma'am, this will only take a few minutes." With that you stand holding your children in front of you trying to shield them from the rain.
The officers open the rear gate and pull out grandma's suitcase. They open it and spill it's contents on the highway shoulder. Grandma screams out "What are you doing thats my good clothes!' and moves towards the officers. An officer warns' Stand back or I'll arrest you right here!" Another officer starts to pull the panels away from the van's side wall. You hear cracking plastic as connector pins give up. The panels are thrown on the shoulder. they then pull the panel off the rear gate, it hangs tangled in wires an do the door panels which are pried loose next. Flash lights stare into the exposed door sills. Another officer sticks a screw driver into the panel next to the DVD screen He pries the screen out. it cracks as he does this. Another has unscrewed the speakers and removed them while a third has opened the Thule overhead carrier and is handing suitcases to two officers who open them, scatter the contents on the ground, using their boots to sift through the clothes in the mud and grit of the shoulder. You scream out "You can't do this. This is against the law! This is america I have rights! you are criminals!" You move forward when a hand comes out of nowhere. You are on the ground, a NJ State trooper with his knee in your back, the officer is panting "Give me a reason asshole, just give me a reason!" The kids are screaming,. grandma has collapsed in a heap. You wife is sobbing"why?" And, as quickly as it began it is over. The officers peal off one by one . One of them hands you back you license and insurance card. In a causual nothing has happened voice with a smirk "You are free to go, and be careful when you pull out with this rain. Have a good trip!" And, with that he is gone.
Your vaction is over. Your car has seven thousand dollars worth of damage. The two cartons of Cigarettes you bought in North Carolina are gone, as are several of the kids DVDs.
Months pass. Your complaints to the Superintendant of the NJ State Police go unheard. Your calls to the NJ state attorney general's office go unreturned. You can't find a lawyer to take your case. The NJ state police doesn't respond to your demand to pay for the damage they did to your car. Your kids are afraid of the police. Your wife insists that you sell the van. Grandma tells you I told you so! You no longer trust the police who constantly inhabit your ER. You treat them gruffly wishing that someday a NJ state trooper would come through the door needing help. Help them you would indeed!
The above story is fiction based on fact. The real stories are much more horrific. Innocent people were shot.
The stories of racial profiling on the NJ Turnpike are epic. It started years ago with the hunt for untaxed cigarrettes from North Carolina. The big busts earned the toll road the nick name "Tobacco Road." As time went on the mission changed and was perverted. Drugs were the target and Hispanics, Columbians, and Blacks were the alleged transporters. The NJSP trained its officers to racial profile. Officers would sit in "Fishing Holes" on the turnpike waiting for prey. They would pull them over for a non recordable offense. Illegal lane change, changing lanes without using a directional signal, was the most popular reason for making stops. Driving while black became the most common reason for being stopped on the turnpike. 13% of the traffic population on the road was black, yet 80% of the stops made by non radar equipped units were blacks. Radar equipped units on speed patrol pulled over blacks in proportion to the driving population, 13% of the time. Federal judges who saw those numbers jaws dropped. The numbers we indefensible. The stories of abuse were epic. And, as frequent traveler on the turnpike i witnessed for myself on more than one occasion the strewn luggage as the black family stood on the shoulder or grass berm heads down.
The state police justified its tactics by its success. It employed an "If it looks like a duck" logic. On the surface that seemed reasonable. So much so that the governor participated in a takedown for a photo op. Afterall, if Black and Hispanic people are the ones doing this, transporting drugs well then, go get'em! They deserve what they get. The problem of course, is that there was no way to know if it was only limited to those two groups because white folks weren't getting stopped. The second and bigger problem was the absolute suspension of rights. People being abused, their property damaged or destroyed, their cars zip canned. The third problem was the scale. Few arrests resuting from hundreds of stops, and searches every month. The great majority of people stopped were exactly like the family in my story. Law biding citizens! And, none had broken any law.
All of this came to a head when two troopers pulled over a 97 Chrysler mini van for DWB. The officers opened fire when the van driver accidentally put the van in reverse. Three of the van's four occupants were shot, two seriously. Records showed that the officers had doctored records to show that they were not pulling over blacks in disproportionate numbers. They were charged and indicted for attempted murder in the circus that followed as the state tried to cover its institutionalized racial profiling ass. Those charges were tossed, as was the indictment. However, the official misconduct charges against them stood. Both were fired and sentenced to probation. To this day the NJSP leadership stands behind those officers it claims were scape goated for doing no more than defending their lives. They also maintain that there was no racial profiling and never has been. The state paid out a 13 million dollar settlement and subjected the state police to a federal monitor. The monitor found a culture of racial profiling along with institutionalized discrimination against minorities. NJ filed for and was just released from the federal oversight. The state paid a seperate settlement to the perp in the gov's photo op. He was guilty, a drug dealer, but it was his lucky night. Maryland and Delaware, both states having followed Jersey's racial profiling lead, quietly changed their policies.
For all its vaunted success the illegal actions of the NJSP never stemmed drug flow to and through NJ. The greater good was never served.
For those of you who espouse racial profiling- this is what you get. Study what happened in NJ. Be careful what you ask for. You may get it.