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Civil Rights Groups Seek to Stop Consent Searches After Report Discloses Racial Disparities
Racism, Racial Profiling & Racial Bias In The War On Drugs
Readers who followed the now six-year-old case of racial profiling, informant misuse, and official corruption in Tulia, Texas have one more reason to declare victory: in April of 2009, a feature-length film based on the incident, American Violet, opened in theatres across the country; the film not only serves as a fictionalized historical documentation of the injustice served upon residents of a Tulia housing project but also shines a national spotlight on drug war racism and corruption, bringing these issues out of the shadows and into the national consciousness.
The film is directed by Bill Haney (in conjunction with his production partner, Tim Disney), who heard about the story while "driving home during rush hour [listening] to National Public Radio." The director told the Los Angeles Times that he "began to cry" when he heard the story of "Regina Kelly, a young African American woman -- a single mother with four daughters -- [...] who was unjustly arrested during a raid on the projects where she lived" and erroniously "accused of dealing drugs" ("American Violet"). That "[t]he district attorney gave her the option of either a plea deal" - which would saddle her with a criminal record, barr her from voting, and cause her to "lose most of her rights" - or going to jail for 25 years" particularly upset Haney, who called the DA's offer a "Sophie's Choice." Departing from their usual documentary mode, Haney and Disney decided to make the case into "a dramatic feature," and they thus fictionalized some aspects of the story (such as Kelly's name, which was changed to Dee Roberts) while remaining true to the basic facts of the case. The filmmakers explained that they "thought doing the film as a feature would have more universal resonance with audiences" and, as Haney told the Times, "affect more people's views."
American Violet chronicles Kelly's tough but eventually victourious legal battle with District Attorney John Paschall, in which the ACLU's Drug Law Reform Project participated. Haney not only reviewed the group's relevant legal documents, which readers can view for themselves by searching the Project's document archive, but also "went to Texas and spent a lot of time with Kelly, her children, and the attorneys, filming long interviews with them." Haney reports that he "always felt a great responsibility to the story" as well as to Kelly herself, with whom he maintains contact. The resulting cinematic document thus portrays Kelly's ordeal empathetically and passionately, never forgetting to ensure that viewers remain aware of the personal biases that law enforcement officials bring to their jobs; the structural inequities imbedded in the criminal justice system; and the plight of the poor, racially marginalized citizens who bare the brunt of the drug war's collateral consequences. However, the film is engaging enough to avoid being overly didactic.
If drug policy and criminal justice reform activists want to inform those to whom the harms of prohibition are less obvious, American Violet provides an interesting test case in doing so through popular cultural representations and will hopefully be replicated by similarly motivated filmmakers in the future. To learn more about the film, visit its official web site; you can also become a fan of the film on Facebook.
According to a Human Rights Watch Report released in April of 2009, although "Whites and blacks engage in drug offenses at similar rates, [...] blacks were 2.8 to 5.5 times more likely to be arrested than whites in every year between 1980 and 2007," the Drug War Chronicle reports ("Blacks Arrested on Drug Charges in Wildly Disproportionate Numbers, Rights Group Charges"). Put more simply, approximately "one third of [drug arrestees since 1980] were black, although African-Americans make up only about 13% of the population and 13% of drug users." Drug law reform advocates have always been aware of massive racial disparities in the application and structure of policies prohibiting the sale and use of illicit substances, but Human Rights Watch has just statistically confirmed our claims. As the organization's senior counsel Jamie Fellner stated, "Jim Crow may be dead, but the drug war has never been color-blind. [...] Although whites and blacks use and sell drugs, the heavy hand of the law is more likely to fall on black shoulders."
On March 10, 2009, the Chicago Tribune ran a story about an ongoing spate of eggregious seizures conducted by police in the Texan city of Tenaha, which is "situated along a heavily traveled highway connecting Houston with popular gambling destinations in Louisiana" ("Highway Robbert? Texas Police Seize Black Motorists' Cash, Cars"). As the article explains, "police here allegedly have found a way to strip motorists, many of them black, of their property without ever charging them with a crime. Instead, they offer out-of-towners a grim choice: voluntarily sign over your belongings to the town, or face felony charges of money laundering and other serious crimes," including drug trafficking. Indeed, in an attempt to justify their behavior, Tenaha officials - whose police officers convinced "[m]ore than 140 people [to] reluctantly accept [the aforementioned] deal from June 2006 to June 2008" - claim "they are engaged in a battle against drug trafficking and call the search-and-seizure practice a legitimate use of the state's asset-forfeiture law." As Mayor George Bowers told the Tribune, "We try to enforce the law here [...]. We're not doing this to raise money."
But civil rights lawyers disagree. The Tribune reports that "attorneys have filed a federal class-action lawsuit to stop what they contend is an unconstitutional perversion of the law's intent, aimed primarily at blacks who have done nothing wrong." Tribune correspondent Howard Witt writes, "Tenaha officials 'have developed an illegal "stop and seize" practice of targeting, stopping, detaining, searching and often seizing property from apparently non-white citizens,' asserts the lawsuit, which was filed in U.S. District Court in the Eastern District of Texas." David Guillory, one of the attorneys involved in the lawsuit, "said he combed through [...] court records from 2006 to 2008 and discovered nearly 200 cases in which Tenaha police seized cash and property from motorists." Only about 50 of the detained motorists were actually charged with drug offenses. In the remaining cases, Guillory contends that "court records showed [that] police seized cash, jewelry, cell phones, and sometimes even automobiles from motorists but never found any contraband or charged them with any crime." Even when "police used the fact that motorists were carrying large amounts of cash as evidence that they must have been involved in laundering drug money," Guillory found that "each of the drivers[, whom] he contacted[,] could account for where the money had come from and why they were carrying it - such as for a gambling trip to Shreveport, La., or to purchase a used car from a private seller." The lawsuit has yet to be settled.
In addition to the disproportionately black travelers being targeted by Tenaha police, "Hispanics allege that they are being singled out" in a similar way "[i]n southern parts of Texas near the Mexican border." The article further contends that, "According to a prominent state legislator, police agencies across Texas are wielding the asset-forfeiture law more aggressively to supplement their shrinking budgets." Texas Senator John Whitmire, who chairs the Senate's Criminal Justice Committee, stated that he considers the majority of these instances cases of "theft" pure and simple. He went one step further than just condemning the practice: Whitmire, according to the article, "introduced a bill" in early March "that would require police to go before a judge before attempting to seize property under the asset-forfeiture law - and ultimately Whitmire hopes to tighten the law further so that law-enforcement officials will be allowed to seize property only after a suspect is charged and convicted in court."
When the Illinois Department of Transportation "issued its annual report on race and traffic stops," the findings evidenced "that police were much more likely to ask minority drivers to consent to searches without probable cause," the Drug War Chronicle reported on August 1, 2008 ("Latest Illinois Report Prompts Civil Rights Groups to Call for End to Consent Searches"). The Chronicle states that the "results are consistent with the first three years of results under the state's traffic stop and racial profiling monitoring program," which began operations in 2004 after then Sen. Barack Obama successfully proposed the legislation and suggests that the Department's report is, indeed, accurate. Despite a protective measure - then Sen. Barack Obama's statewide traffic stop and racial profiling monitoring program, put into place in 2004 - Illinois police officers are still asking racial minorities to give consent for warrantless, suspicionless vehicle searches more frequently than they do their white counterparts. However, the report also found that officers who did so " were much less likely to actually find drugs, guns, or other contraband" - probably because no reasonable suspicion existed to suggest that any such thing would turn up in the first place. In fact, "police discovered illicit goods roughly twice as often when whites agreed to searches." The practice is thus not only racist but also ineffective.
The state's report led civil rights groups - including the ACLU of Illinois, the Mexican American Legal Defense Fund, and the Rainbow/Push Coalition, among others - to "call on [then] Gov. Rod Blagojevich (D) to end the practice of consent searches" altogehter. In other words, advocates want to barr police from asking anyone to consent to a search of his or her vehicle absent probable cause or a valid warrant. Doing so would effectively nullify such blatant racial profiling and ensure that police searched all citizens - regardless of race - only when officers had a valid reason to believe that the vehicle in question contained something illegal.
A study in the Oct. 2005 edition of the Journal of Pain finds that
minority and poor neighborhoods are likely to lack access to pain
medications. The University of Michigan Health System
announced on Oct. 10, 2005 (
"Pharmacies In Minority And Low-Income Areas Less Likely To Carry
Sufficient Supplies Of Pain Medications"):
An abstract of the article, "Differences In Prescription Opioid Analgesic Availability: Comparing Minority And White Pharmacies Across Michigan," from the Journal of Pain's website appears below.
"Differences in Prescription Opioid Analgesic Availability: Comparing Minority and White Pharmacies Across Michigan
Representative Shirley Jackson-Lee (D-TX) along with several of her colleagues has introduced legislation to "provide oversight and accountability for the millions of federal dollars distributed to state and local law enforcement agencies to fight the drug war."
According to the American Civil Liberties Union in its news release of May 25, 2005 ( "'No More Tulias' Legislation Introduced In Congress, ACLU Supports Oversight, Accountability of Drug Task Forces"), "'Until now, these drug task forces around the country haven't had to answer to anyone,' said Jesselyn McCurdy, an ACLU Legislative Counsel. 'As a result of this lack of state and federal oversight, they’ve been at the center of the some of the country’s most egregious law enforcement abuse scandals. This legislation would put checks and balances on their unfettered power, and make sure citizens aren’t rounded up based on uncorroborated testimony, or their race.'
The ACLU noted that "'No More Tulias: The Law Enforcement Evidentiary Standards Improvement Act of 2005,' is being introduced by Rep. Shelia Jackson-Lee (D-TX) and cosponsored by John Conyers (D-MI), Charles Rangel (D-NY), Donald Payne (D-NJ), and Ed Towns (D-NY). The bill is named after the drug task force scandal in Tulia, Tex in 1999 during which 15 percent of the town's African American population was arrested, prosecuted and sentenced to decades in prison based on the uncorroborated testimony of a federally funded undercover officer with a record of racial impropriety. The defendants have since been pardoned, but Tulia was not an isolated incident. Earlier this month, in a similar case, a lawsuit filed by the ACLU on behalf of 27 African Americans was settled out of court. The individuals were arrested in Hearne, Tex., a town of 4,500, on charges of possession or distribution of crack cocaine."
(For more information about the settlement over the incident at Hearne, check out "Civil Rights Lawsuit Is Settled In Hearne," Dallas Morning News, May 11, 2005.)
HR2620's full text was not available from either the Library of Congress or the website of Rep. Jackson-Lee at the time of this writing (June 2, 2005). However, the Library reports the title of HR 2620 as "To increase the evidentiary standard required to convict a person for a drug offense, to require screening of law enforcement officers or others acting under color of law participating in drug task forces, and for other purposes."
Authorities have charged with murder the police officer who shot and killed an innocent young man in Louisville earlier this year. According to an AP report in the Boston Globe on March 21, 2004 ( "Murder Charge In KY Police Shooting"), "Michael Newby's extra-large jogging pants were falling down as he rushed out of the house. 'Boy, you better get a rope or a belt or something for those,' Jerry Bouggess told his slender stepson, who was heading out for a Saturday night. That was the last conversation they would have. Early the next morning, Newby, 19, was dead, shot in the back three times by an undercover Louisville police officer during a drug bust. Newby was the seventh black man killed by police in the past five years in this city of nearly 700,000, where blacks make up about 20 percent of the population."
Though Newby was shot in the back, legal experts and rights activists are not confident that the charges will result in a conviction. As the Globe noted, "Unlike the past killings, however, this one led to murder charges against the officer, McKenzie G. Mattingly, a white man who had been on the force for about six years. But legal specialists and local activists are skeptical the case will end in a murder conviction. 'Just because somebody is shot in the back doesn't mean it's a criminal act,' said Tim Apolito, a criminal justice professor at the University of Dayton in Ohio. 'It's a quantum leap from somebody getting indicted to actually being convicted.' Jefferson County prosecutor David Stengel said the Jan. 3 slaying appeared all along to be a 'bad shooting,' in part because of the shots in the back. Mattingly, 31, pleaded not guilty and is free on bail."
A settlement has been reached in the Tulia drug sting case. According to the New York Times on March 11, 2004 ( "$5 Million Settlement Ends Case Of Tainted Texas Sting"), "Five years after 46 people, almost all of them black, were arrested on fabricated drug charges in Tulia, Tex., their ordeal will draw to a close today with the announcement of a $5 million settlement in their civil suit and the disbandment of a federally financed 26-county narcotics task force responsible for the arrests."
The Times reported that "'This is undoubtedly that last major chapter in the Tulia story, and this will conclude the efforts of people in Tulia to get some compensation and justice,' said Jeff Blackburn, a lawyer in Amarillo who represented the people arrested five years ago in the civil suit. 'With the abolition of the task force, it completely closes the circle on what was done.' Mr. Blackburn added that the Panhandle Regional Narcotics Trafficking Task Force failed adequately to supervise the agent, Tom Coleman, in its eagerness to win battles in the war on drugs."
The Times noted that "The $5 million will be divided among 45 former defendants based on a formula that will take account of whether they served time in prison and how long. One defendant has since died. The settlement will be paid by the City of Amarillo, which had a leading role in running the task force. Marcus W. Norris, the city attorney, said many drug task forces in Texas were poorly organized and governed. That led, he said, to poor supervision of Mr. Coleman in Tulia, a lack of accountability and catastrophic misjudgments. 'There's a lesson here,' Mr. Norris said, 'that cities should be very careful about these alliances.' Mr. Coleman, who was named Texas Lawman of the Year in 1999 for his work in Tulia, will go on trial on perjury charges in May. He has pleaded not guilty. Jon Mark Hogg, a lawyer for Mr. Coleman, declined to comment on the civil settlement."
A settlement has been reached with Amarillo, however negotiations continue with other Texas counties and cities. According to an Associated Press story carried by the Charlotte Observer on March 12, 2004 ( "Amarillo Admits Drug Sting Had Erred"), "Kizzie White, who will receive part of the settlement, said Thursday she is satisfied with it and is especially glad to see the task force disbanded. 'They need to be gone, and let the city and county do the job,' said White, who spent four years behind bars and was released in 2003. 'The money is good, too, but that can't bring back the time I missed with my kids.' Mediation is ongoing with others named in the lawsuit -- 26 counties and three cities involved with the Panhandle Regional Narcotics Trafficking Task Force. Swisher County officials earlier approved a $250,000 settlement for those imprisoned based on Coleman's testimony in exchange for the defendants promising not to sue the county. Coleman no longer is an officer."
Louisville, KY is the site of protests over the police killing of yet another young black man. The Guardian newspaper reported on Jan. 9, 2004 ( "Protest Of KY Suspect Shooting Gets Tense") that "A protest following the death of a black teenager who was shot three times in the back by a white police officer turned violent Thursday, with demonstrators breaking windows of the police chief's office. About 400 people gathered outside Louisville Metro Police headquarters to protest the Saturday night shooting death of 19-year-old Michael Newby. Newby was shot in the back by undercover police officer McKenzie G. Mattingly. Police said Mattingly was trying to buy drugs from Newby when the deal went wrong, and Newby was shot after the two struggled for Mattingly's gun. It was the second killing of a black man by a white police officer in the city in just over a year."
The FBI has begun an investigation into the incident. The Owensboro Messenger-Inquirer reported on Jan. 7, 2004 ( "FBI Joins Probe Into Fatal Shooting Of Teen By Police") that "Federal officials are investigating the fatal shooting of a black teenager shot in the back last week by a Louisville police officer, an FBI spokesman said Tuesday. 'We are going to conduct what we call a substantial investigation, and that means we will conduct a complete, independent, thorough and impartial investigation of the matter,' David Beyer, an FBI spokesman in Louisville, said in a phone interview. Beyer said the investigation was initiated early this week."
Calls for patience as the investigation progresses are being met with skepticism and anger. The Messenger-Inquirer noted that "The call for patience incensed some civil rights leaders who have protested the Louisville police in the past. Newby was the seventh black man to be shot and killed by Louisville police in the past five years. 'We have too many of our young black men dying unnecessarily by a police department that is corrupt to the core,' said the Rev. James Tennyson, a local pastor and activist. The Justice Resource Center, headed by the Rev. Louis Coleman, met with Newby's family on Monday and recommended that the family sue the city. It was not known Tuesday whether the family would heed Coleman's advice. 'It's up to them. We've encouraged them to fight this as hard as they can,' Coleman said."
To search the MAPINC archive for recent news about this case, click here.
The police shooting of an unarmed Columbus, GA man has sparked a controversy locally and nationally over the question of racially biased law enforcement, with the FBI beginning an investigation of the incident. The Columbus Ledger-Enquirer reported on Dec. 17, 2003 ( "FBI Starts Preliminary Probe") that "The Federal Bureau of Investigation has begun a preliminary inquiry into the fatal shooting of an unarmed Columbus man by a deputy sheriff. The federal agency became involved at the request of Muscogee County Sheriff Ralph Johnson. 'I feel this is the proper, procedural process for the citizens to continue to have confidence in this office,' Johnson said during a Tuesday afternoon press conference at the Government Center. The announcement comes a day after a coalition of area churches called for a federal inquiry into the death of Kenneth B. Walker, a 39-year-old father and husband. Some community leaders have also called for an investigation into the department's search and seizure procedures and for the sheriff to step aside during the investigation."
Previously, the state's investigative agency had taken charge of the investigation. The Athens Banner-Herald reported on Dec. 14, 2003 ( "GBI Takes Over Muscogee Shooting Probe") that "The Georgia Bureau of Investigation has assumed control of the probe into the shooting of an unarmed man by a Muscogee County Sheriff's deputy. Muscogee County Sheriff Ralph Johnson said Friday he almost has finished his own investigation of Wednesday night's incident on Interstate 185 in which a deputy sheriff shot and killed an unarmed 39-year-old Columbus man."
According to the Banner-Herald, "Walker and three friends were pulled over in their gray GMC Yukon Wednesday night. Officers with guns drawn ordered the four men, 'Get on the ground! Get on the ground! Get on the ground!' and 'Let me see your hands!' Walker's three companions apparently complied with the commands, but Walker provided 'some resistance,' according to the sheriff's account. Although Walker was on the ground, his right hand couldn't be seen by the officers, Johnson said. The deputy fired at least two shots, including the fatal shot to Walker's head. No gun was found in the Yukon. Walker died during surgery about 2:25 a.m. Thursday. The other three men were released. On Thursday, Johnson called the incident 'a tragic day for the family of the deceased and for my office and for the city of Columbus.' Walker's family and friends say they want to know why he was shot and why they didn't find out until nearly four hours later. Mother Emily Walker said she was called to the hospital after 1 a.m. Thursday. He died before she and Walker's wife located him in the hospital. 'There are so many unanswered questions,' said Emily Walker."
The incident has been cast by officials as stemming from a case of mistaken identity, which others -- including an attorney for the Walker family -- dispute. The Columbus Ledger-Enquirer reported on Dec. 13, 2003 ( "Sheriff Denies Race As Factor In Interstate Shooting") that "The tragic incident began when Walker, a former Kendrick High School bsketball star working for Blue Cross and Blue Shield, met three friends after work Wednesday evening. The four men gathered at Applebee's at Gentian Boulevard and University Avenue, part of their ritual weekly get-together. They usually followed happy hour at Applebee's with a journey to El Vaquero, a Mexican Restaurant in Cross Country Plaza, for its margarita specials. Walker left his car at Applebee's and rode with the others in Carver High School basketball coach Warren Beaulah's GMC Yukon, but a Walker family friend said on this night the men departed from their usual script. They stopped at the Northwoods Apartments on Armour Road, where one of the men asked a resident to give him a ride to work Thursday morning -- then the four took off again to El Vaquero's. Walker and his friends apparently didn't know that the Metro Narcotics Task Force had one of the Northwoods Apartments units under surveillance as a site where drug deals were transacted. The drug investigation also included a tip from an informant that the suspected drug dealers' source of contraband would be arriving in a gray GMC Yukon, which would be occupied by armed people from Miami. When Beaulah drove his vehicle from the apartment parking lot at 5000 Armour Road, he was followed by officers. He turned onto Manchester Expressway, then headed south on I-185 toward Macon Road when officers hit their blue lights and pulled the SUV over against the sound barrier wall. Officers with guns drawn ordered the four men, "Get on the ground! Get on the ground! Get on the ground!" and "Let me see your hands!" Walker's three companions apparently complied with the commands, but Walker provided "some resistance," according to the sheriff's account. Although Walker was on the ground, his right hand couldn't be seen by the officers, he said. At least two gunshots rang out on that roadside about 9:30 p.m. -- one shot striking Walker in the head and the other passing through his right shirt sleeve. An ambulance rushed Walker to The Medical Center, where he died during surgery about 2:25 a.m. Thursday. Beaulah and the other two men were taken in separate cars to the sheriff's department, where they were questioned and detained in a holding cell for six hours. They didn't discover until after they were released that Walker had died. During a morning radio show Friday, a caller who identified himself as having been a passenger in the Yukon offered an account of the traffic stop and the shooting that followed. "The way they had the guns in the faces and without not saying anything and we not understanding what was going on, it was very confusing," the man told Michael Soul, host of Foxie 105's "Breakfast Jam." "It was very scary and you basically didn't know what to do. You felt like if you even tried to turn your face from one side to the other, they'd shoot you. It was that scary." Soul described the caller's reenactment as "chilling" and "sickening." Columbus attorney Derrell Dowdell said he and attorney Gary Parker were asked by the Walker family to ensure that an independent investigation was made into Kenneth Walker's death, but Dowdell wants federal intervention. "We're seeking a thorough investigation by the U.S. Justice Department or by the FBI," he said Friday. Dowdell said he would provide witnesses, other than the passengers in the Yukon, who could testify that all four men were "ambushed" by law enforcement the night of the incident. "They will testify that Walker didn't physically or verbally disobey any command by any law enforcement officer," Dowdell said. "The evidence will show these young men were physically removed from the vehicle, had guns touching portions of their body and were shoved to the ground and placed in a prone position.""
National civil rights figures have also taken note of the incident. The Ledger-Enquirer reported on Dec. 18, 2003 ( "Sharpton Plans To Visit Columbus Over Shooting") that "The Rev. Al Sharpton, a national civil rights leader and presidential candidate, is heading to Columbus. He's accepted an invitation to visit the area sometime in the next 10 days, a National Action Network representative said Wednesday during a news conference. The NAN, headed locally and statewide by Columbus' A.D. Carter, is the activist organization Sharpton heads nationally. Sharpton is expected to address last week's shooting death of Kenneth B. Walker, a black Columbus resident whose funeral was Tuesday. "A lot of people feel we need some national presence. This issue is not isolated in the country," Carter said, speaking at Spirit Filled Ministries."
You can access articles on this case from the MAPINC archive by clicking here.
Nearly all those convicted in the Tulia drug sting a few years ago were pardoned by the governor of Texas in late August. As reported by the Abilene Reporter-News on Aug. 23, 2003 ( "Perry Pardons 35 Convicted In Tulia Case"), "Gov. Rick Perry on Friday granted pardons to 35 people who were convicted of drug charges based on the testimony of an undercover agent later charged with perjury. 'Texans demand a justice system that is tough but fair,' Perry said in a statement. 'I believe my decision to grant pardons in these cases is both appropriate and just.' Perry said he was influenced by questions about the testimony of Tom Coleman, the only undercover agent involved in the busts. In June, Perry signed a bill allowing the release of the 12 Tulia defendants who were still in prison." Also earlier in summer, the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles unanimously recommended that the governor issue the pardons.
Two of the other innocent victims in the Tulia case are filing suit in federal court over the arrests. The Longview News-Journal reported on Aug. 24, 2003 ( "Pardoned Tulia Drug Defendants Celebrate Release: 'I'm Really Free'") that "Drug charges against Zuri Bossett and Tonya White were dropped last year after they proved they were not in Tulia at the time Coleman claimed he bought drugs from them. The women sued Coleman, Swisher County and its sheriff, Larry Stewart, prosecutor Terry McEachern and several officials with a narcotics task force in Amarillo that worked with Coleman. The women, who did not specify damages in their lawsuit, said the officials violated their civil rights and directed racial bias against Tulia's black population. Coleman's attorney did not return calls for comment. Stewart declined to comment."
Twelve of the Tulia defendants, wrongfully convicted on the word of a sole, now-indicted narc, were set free in June, 2003. As reported by the Winnipeg Free Press on June 17, 2003 ( "12 Jailed In Drug Bust Set Free, Agent Indicted"), "After as much as four years behind bars, 12 people sent to prison in a drug bust that brought cries of racism in this Texas Panhandle town were freed yesterday by a judge who said they were railroaded by a white undercover agent. 'I got something to smile about today,' Freddie Brookins said after the release of his son, Freddie Jr . The 11 black defendants and one white defendant were released on bail while they pursue their appeals. But a special prosecutor has said he will dismiss all charges if the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals grants them new trials. The racially charged case tore apart this town of 5,000 people and led to investigations by the U.S. Justice Department and the Texas Attorney General's office. A bill passed by the legislature and signed by Gov. Rick Perry two weeks ago cleared the way for the defendants' release while their cases were still on appeal. 'There are a great number of people who have a great deal of time, effort and faith in each of you invested,' state Judge Ron Chapman, who was brought out of retirement to preside over a review of the case. The undercover agent, Tom Coleman, who worked for a regional drug task force, has been indicted on perjury charges. All 12 were released from the Swisher County Jail on personal recognizance bonds. The judge has recommended the appeals court overturn all convictions."
Supporters and rights activists were pleased, yet concerned that there are many more victims of injustice lingering behind bars. A story by United Press International on June 16, 2003 ( "Analysis - Are There More Tulias Out There?") reported that "'Who knows how many other Tulias are out there,' said Vanita Gupta, an attorney with the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, who has worked on the case along with scores of other lawyers. The factors behind the arrests in Tulia are at play in the criminal justice system across the nation, she told United Press International. They include inadequate indigent defense systems, unchecked prosecutorial misconduct and racial bias, she said."
One Texas legislator is calling for an Innocence Commission to look into other cases where innocent victims may have been wrongfully convicted and imprisoned. According to UPI, "Questions have more recently been raised about the so-called 'fake drug' arrests in Dallas and the DNA work of the Houston Police Crime Lab, which involves death row cases. A Houston senator wonders how many others there are. 'The only reason we know about the problems in Tulia, Dallas and Houston is because it makes good press,' he said. 'But what happens when it is just one person who is wrongfully convicted? Nothing, they sit in jail.' Ellis wants an innocence commission established in Texas to investigate what went wrong in such cases just the National Transportation Safety Board does in plane crashes. 'I am glad to see these people released here today,' he said. 'Their plight should serve as a stark reminder that this can happen anywhere to anybody. We have a duty to prevent it from ever happening again.'"
Will justice finally start being served? The Austin American-Statesman reported on April 29, 2003 ( "One Bad Agent, One Failed System Of Justice In Tulia") that a Swisher County, TX grand jury indicted Tom Coleman the week before "on three felony perjury charges accusing him of lying on the witness stand in March." According to the American-Statesman, "According to the indictment, Coleman testified he learned he was facing theft charges in August 1998 when Swisher County Sheriff Larry Stewart told him there was a warrant for his arrest. But other testimony he gave and evidence indicated Coleman knew months earlier -- in May 1998 -- about the theft charge. Before working undercover in Swisher County, Coleman had been a deputy in Cochran County. That county had issued a warrant for his arrest in the summer of 1998 for stealing county-owned gasoline two years before. Charges were dismissed after Coleman made restitution. The indictment also stated that Coleman lied about whether he told the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement Officer Standards and Education, as required, that he had been arrested."
The American-Statesman points out however that this case is
about more than just Tom Coleman. The note:
Four of the Tulia, TX defendants convicted on the testimony of former undercover cop Tom Coleman are back in court to determine if there is any evidence of actual guilt. The Amarillo Globe-News reported on March 18, 2003 ( "Hearings Begin On '99 Drug Bust") that "Evidentiary hearings on the controversial 1999 Tulia drug bust kicked off Monday with a full house and witnesses questioning the integrity of the undercover officer who made the cases. The 242nd District courtroom was packed with spectators and attorneys in town for evidentiary hearings in the writ of habeas corpus appeals of four of the people convicted in the sting. The four defendants - Jason Jerome Williams, Christopher Eugene Jackson, Freddie Brookins Jr. and Joe Moore - all sat quietly to hear testimony that mostly called into question the honesty of their accuser, Tom Coleman. The four men were convicted and received sentences ranging from 20 to 90 years in prison. The cases of the four men were upheld on direct appeal, but the habeas corpus appeals of the four men were remanded back to Tulia last year."
The defense presented a number of witnesses who appeared to agree with the contention that Coleman could not be trusted. The New York Times reported on March 18, 2003 ( "Texas Cases Challenged Over Officer's Testimony") that "The proceedings started with lawyers for the jailed residents calling a parade of law enforcement officials who testified to Mr. Coleman's poor character and odd conduct. Ori White, the district attorney for Pecos County, who had litigated a divorce case against Mr. Coleman while in private practice, said, 'I do not believe Tom Coleman is an honest individual.' Mr. White said Mr. Coleman owned an illegal machine gun and that he so feared for his safety in the divorce case that he wore a bulletproof vest to court. Bruce Wilson, who was the sheriff of Pecos County for 16 years and for 5 years in the early 1990s was Mr. Coleman's boss said, 'You just couldn't depend on what he told you.' Juan Castro, the police chief of Fort Stockton, said Mr. Coleman was 'a paranoid gun nut.' Samuel Esparza, an investigator for the police department there, testified that Mr. Coleman was a racist. Mr. Coleman, who is now a private investigator, was not present today, has an unlisted phone number and could not be reached for comment. He is expected to testify on Wednesday."
Coleman's own testimony in an earlier case also seems to call his veracity into question. Again according to the Times, "Mr. Coleman, who was named the state's Lawman of the Year in 1999, used unorthodox methods. He worked alone and did not tape record his drug buys. No drugs, weapons or large sums of cash were found in the arrests among the network of drug traffickers Mr. Coleman said he had identified. He described his methods in a 2001 deposition in a civil rights case brought by one of the defendants in the sweeps, which the county later settled for an undisclosed sum. When he bought drugs, Mr. Coleman said, 'I would put them in my sock, and write down the time and the date, and if I had a street name, first name, subject in a green pickup, whatever I had -- because I didn't know none of these people.' Whatever he had to go on, he said, 'I wrote on my leg.' Mr. Coleman was less than categorical when asked in the civil case whether he stood by the truthfulness of his earlier testimony. 'That can be questionable,' he said in his deposition. 'I mean, I have read over my testimony, and some of that stuff in there is, like, totally out in left field.' Lawyers for the defendants say there is a name for that patch of field. They call it perjury."
The State of Texas is opening an investigation into the false arrests and entrapment which took place in Tulia, Texas in 1999. The Austin American-Statesman reported on August 28, 2002 ( "Cornyn To Begin Inquiry Into Tulia Drug Arrests") that "Texas Attorney General John Cornyn has announced that he will begin an investigation into a 1999 drug sweep in Tulia that resulted in the arrest of 37 African Americans, about 30 percent of the town's black male population, and was criticized by civil rights groups. 'There has been some confusion over whether there even was an ongoing investigation,' Cornyn told The Associated Press. 'I became concerned things had gotten bogged down.' But a spokesman for Cornyn's Democratic rival in the November race for the U.S. Senate said Tuesday that the timing of the investigation suggests Cornyn is playing politics. 'The closer we get to Election Day, the more apparent it is that John Cornyn is concerned about his own record as attorney general,' said Justin Lonon, a spokesman for Democrat Ron Kirk, who has not spoken about the arrests in the Panhandle town during his campaign. 'Imagine how much better off we would be if John Cornyn would have taken action on this issue rather than wait till 70 days before he faced voters.'"
According to the American-Statesman, "In a letter Monday to R. Alexander Acosta, deputy assistant attorney general for the U.S. Department of Justice civil rights division, Cornyn said he has told his staff to open an investigation and has asked the Texas Department of Public Safety to join. Cornyn said he didn't want to interfere with an ongoing federal investigation but said a state review is needed to see if any Texas laws were broken. In his letter, Cornyn asked that state investigators be allowed to review the federal case. A Justice Department spokeswoman said the federal investigation is still open and declined further comment."
Many are skeptical of the timing of the state's investigation. As the New York Times reported on August 28, 2002 ( "Investigation Opened In Case Criticized By Rights Groups"), "Jeff Blackburn, an Amarillo attorney who represents several of the Tulia defendants, said the investigation is long overdue. 'We have demanded an investigation for well over a year now,' Blackburn said. 'However, it's one thing to investigate, it's another to take real action. And Mr. Cornyn is in a position to take action. His office needs to take over these cases and see to it that some justice finally starts getting done.' 'It's about time,' state Rep. Juan Hinojosa, D-McAllen, said Monday night. 'He's being very political. Where was he when it was going on?' The case has drawn national media attention in recent weeks with Cornyn running for U.S. Senate. The Republican said Monday his decision to open an investigation during his campaign was a coincidence."
Charges were dropped against one of the last remaining defendants yet to stand trial on charges arising from the infamous Tulia drug sting. As the Amarillo Globe-News reported on April 10, 2002 ( "Newly Uncovered Evidence Frees Defendant In Tulia Drug Sting"), "One of the last defendants from the controversial 1999 Tulia drug sting was freed Tuesday on newly uncovered evidence that put her in Oklahoma City at the time she allegedly sold illegal drugs."
According to the Globe-News, "Tonya Michelle White, 33, was expected to go on trial Tuesday for allegedly selling cocaine to an undercover agent Tom Coleman. That won't happen after an emergency grand jury took one hour to decide not to indict White. The hearing came after District Attorney Terry McEachern received new evidence that showed White made bank transactions and phone calls within hours of the alleged 10:15 a.m. Oct. 9, 1998, drug deal with Coleman."
The Globe-News noted that "White was one of 46 defendants - 39 of whom are black - who were indicted in July 1999 after an 18-month undercover investigation that sparked a firestorm of controversy. White was not arrested until last year, when she turned herself over to authorities, and she was later released on a $25,000 bond. Fellow defendant Zury Bossett remains to be tried in the case." According to the Globe-News, "White's attorney, Jeff Blackburn of Amarillo, said the evidence proved it was more than a minor inconsistency. 'Now we know it's ( the case ) a total lie,' he said. 'To say it's an inconsistency is like saying the Empire State Building is kind of big.'"
Blackburn was able to elaborate on the case in an article in the New York Times on April 12, 2002 ( "Drug Charge Dropped In Case Criticized By Rights Groups"): "Jeff Blackburn, a lawyer for Ms. White, said the charge against her that was dismissed on Tuesday further undermined the credibility of the undercover agent in the Tulia operation, Tom Coleman. In nearly every case, Mr. Coleman was the lone witness and provided the only evidence in winning convictions. One case has been dropped because of false identification. Critics say Mr. Coleman operated with almost no oversight. Former colleagues described him in documents in a dispute over custody of his children as a compulsive liar. Mr. Coleman has also been charged with misdemeanor theft of gas from a government pump while he was a sheriff's deputy. 'This is the first time that we have proven through direct evidence that he made up an accusation against someone,' Mr. Blackburn said of the White case. Last year, state lawmakers passed legislation known as the Tulia law that prohibits convicting a defendant solely on the testimony of an undercover agent."
People involved with the Tulia defendants are hopeful for more positive outcomes. As the Times reported, "Mr. Blackburn said the White case could provide grounds to overturn other convictions. Already, national groups like the William Moses Kunstler Fund for Racial Justice and the American Civil Liberties Union have gotten involved. Vanita Gupta, a spokeswoman for the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund Inc., said her group was representing two defendants in their appeals and had found lawyers in Washington or New York for the other 18 defendants who are in prison."
New Jersey police will face limits on their ability to randomly search vehicles due to a state Supreme Court decision. The New York Times reported on March 5, 2002 ( "High Court In New Jersey Strictly Limits Auto Searches") that "The New Jersey Supreme Court imposed strict limits today on the consensual auto searches that have been at the heart of the furor over racial profiling by the state police." The court ruled that "before asking a driver's permission to search, an officer must have 'reasonable and articulable suspicion' of criminal activity -- a standard adopted by only one other state, Hawaii. The court ruled on the basis of the New Jersey Constitution, as it often does in civil liberties cases."
The case involved cocaine found during a search of a vehicle on the New Jersey Turnpike. According to the Times, "The defendant in the case, Steven J. Carty, was a passenger in a car stopped on the New Jersey Turnpike in March 1997. A search found cocaine in Mr. Carty's possession. The trial court in Camden County, after hearing prosecutors argue that Mr. Carty and the driver were acting nervous, found the search justifiable and refused to exclude the evidence. Mr. Carty spent nearly two years in prison before the appellate division overturned the ruling. Today's decision upheld the appellate court's finding in a 5-to-0 vote. Two justices, Peter G. Verniero and Jaynee LaVecchia, who had been officials in the attorney general's office, recused themselves. The decision was written by Justice James Coleman. Justice Coleman's opinion cited findings that 95 percent of motorists consent to requests for searches when their cars are stopped, adding that 'where the individual is at the side of the road and confronted by a uniformed officer, it is not a stretch of the imagination to assume that the individual feels compelled to consent.'"
A copy of the court's decision in State v. Steven J. Carty can be viewed by clicking here.
The US Justice Department's Bureau of Justice Statistics released its report on "Traffic Stop Data Collection Policies For State Police, 2001 in December 2001. The report presents findings from the 2001 State Police Traffic Stop Data Collection Procedures. State police agencies were asked to report on their policies and procedures for collecting race and ethnicity data regarding motorists involved in traffic stops.
According to the report, "As of March 2001, 16 of the Nation's 49 State law enforcement agencies whose primary duties include highway patrol required all their officers with traffic patrol duties to record the motorists' race and ethnicity for each traffic stop. The 16 State police agencies collecting these data represent an increase of 7 States since 1999." (The Bureau collected similar data in 1999.) Further, "An additional 23 State police agencies required their officers to collect race and ethnicity data under more limited circumstances, such as if an arrest occurred, or if force was used. Ten State police agencies did not require traffic patrol officers to collect race data for any stops."
The report also notes that "In addition to the increase in the number of States that required State law enforcement agencies to collect race and ethnicity statistics during traffic stops, States have recently enacted statutes that prohibit law enforcement officers from engaging in racial profiling (California, Connecticut, Kentucky, Oklahoma, and Rhode Island). These statutes generally defined racial profiling as stopping a person based solely on race or ethnicity instead of an individualized suspicion arising from the person's behavior."
Four years after the shooting of an unarmed man on the New Jersey Turnpike ignited a nationwide battle over racial profiling, the two NJ State Troopers charged in the case "were allowed to plead guilty to reduced charges today and were spared both jail time and probation," according to the New York Times on January 15, 2002 ( "New Jersey Troopers Avoid Jail In Case That Highlighted Profiling"). As the Times reported, "The turnpike shooting came to symbolize the frustration of black and Latino motorists who had complained for years that they were being unfairly and illegally singled out by police officers based solely on their skin color. And it helped ignite a heated national debate about the proper use of profiling in police work, particularly in drug interdiction policy, with critics calling it racist but some law enforcement officials saying it was simply good police work."
Civil rights leaders and other critics of abusive police practices were outraged. According to the Times story, "The legal finale to the case today outraged longtime critics of racial profiling. Civil rights leaders have vowed to press state officials to discipline the supervisors who taught racial profiling and to adopt a new law making it a crime. 'This was not justice,' said the Rev. Reginald T. Jackson, executive director of the Black Ministers Council of New Jersey. 'And we will not stop until justice is ours.'"
As part of their admission of guilt, "The two men who began the furor by firing 11 shots into a van carrying black and Latino men from the Bronx on April 23, 1998, publicly acknowledged today for the first time that they had stopped the vehicle because its occupants were black and Latino. The troopers said their supervisors had trained them to focus on black- and brown-skinned drivers because, they were told, they were more likely to be drug traffickers." That training inspired the judge to give out reduced sentences. As the Times noted, "Prosecutors then asked the judge to spare the troopers probation, noting that both men had been carrying out the policies they had been taught. Judge Charles A. Delehey of State Superior Court in Mercer County agreed, noting that both men would lose their jobs and that Trooper Kenna, who had been involved in a shooting in March 1998, had received inadequate counseling before being rushed back into duty. 'You are victims not only of your own actions but of the system which employed you,' the judge said, issuing each man a penalty of a $280 fine." That training was not solely provided to New Jersey police. Again from the Times: "Much of the training provided to New Jersey troopers was based on the Drug Enforcement Administration's Operation Pipeline, which was intended to disrupt the shipment of cocaine on highways along the East Coast and in the Southwest. The policy emphasized the correlation between drug trafficking and racial characteristics. During the presidential campaign of 2000, George W. Bush and Al Gore both decried racial profiling and promised to take steps to end the practice if elected."
A number of changes in New Jersey police procedure have been instituted since the events. "In New Jersey, state officials have taken several steps to end profiling in recent years. After the Justice Department discovered evidence that blacks and Latinos were being stopped and searched in disproportionately high numbers, and that the attorney general's office had not been forthcoming with its statistics, the Whitman administration entered into a consent decree and agreed to allow a court-appointed monitor to oversee the department. The State Legislature's hearings led to calls for the impeachment of State Supreme Court Justice Peter G. Verniero, who had been attorney general when the state police were concealing information from the federal inquiry, but the measure was blocked in the State Assembly." It is unsure how effective these reforms will be. According to the Times, "The New Jersey attorney general's office ended a civil suit last February by agreeing to pay a $12.9 million settlement to the victims. Troopers Hogan and Kenna, who are both white, each pleaded guilty to obstructing the investigation by lying about the incident to internal state police investigators in the days after the shooting. They also acknowledged intentionally misrepresenting the race of drivers they had stopped on other occasions, to conceal the fact that they were singling out blacks and Latinos. They had been charged with aggravated assault; Trooper Kenna had also faced a charge of attempted murder. Both men also agreed to resign from the state police."
A police scandal in Dallas, TX has resulted in at least two dozen criminal cases being suspended, according to the New York Times on Jan. 16, 2002 ( "Fake Drugs Force An End To 24 Cases In Dallas"). The Times reported that "Nearly half of the cocaine and nearly a quarter of the methamphetamine that the Dallas police seized last year have turned out to be gypsum from wallboard, a discovery that has led to the suspension of two dozen criminal cases, local officials say. All the cases involve a single unidentified informer who has received at least $200,000 from the Dallas Police Department over the last two years, officials confirmed last week. The supposed drugs tested positive in field tests after the arrests, they said, but more sophisticated testing done later in preparation for trial found no more than traces of drugs."
The scale of the case is rather large. According to the Times, "Investigators have found more than 660 pounds of fake cocaine and at least 22 pounds of fake methamphetamine. Some of those arrested have already spent up to six months in jail and at least four have been deported on charges that could have resulted in sentences from five years to life in prison." A great number of cases may be affected. The Times again: "Janice Houston, a spokeswoman for the police department, said today that at least 70 drug purchases associated with the unnamed informer over the past two years would be reviewed. But Ms. Houston would not comment on the possibility that the evidence in question might have been tampered with while under police custody. 'We have an investigation under way,' she said, 'and it's just too early to speculate on where the problem might be.'"
Additionally, allegations have arisen of racial bias in this case. According to the Times, "All 18 people named in the two dozen suspended prosecutions have Hispanic surnames, prompting accusations of racial profiling from the Mexican Consulate here and Hispanic organizations." According to a report in the Rocky Mountain News on January 22, 2002 ( "Hispanics Were Targets In Drug Cases, Attorneys Say"), "Outrage in the legal community appears to be growing, as District Attorney Bill Hill announced that his office is working to dismiss 59 cases, some involving two Dallas police undercover narcotics officers who are on administrative leave and at least one paid confidential informant who no longer works for the department. Thirty-nine people had been arrested as a result of the 59 cases."
According to the News, "'The majority of defendants involved are Mexican nationals, which to me looks like they were targets,' attorney Cynthia Barbare said. Dallas attorney Tony Wright was more pointed, calling the cases "the epitome of racial profiling.' 'The police knew they were picking on people that would be deported,' he said. '( Hispanics ) need to be marching on City Hall,' Wright said. 'They're upset. They just don't know what to do about it. They came from a country where corruption is the standard. Now they just don't know who to trust.'"
The informant in this case has run into other troubles in the since the story broke. As the Rocky Mountain News reported on Feb. 8, 2002 ( "Ex-Informant Lied, Indictment Says"), "A judge has ordered the key confidential informant in the fake drug cases handled by the Dallas Police Department held on charges of lying about being a U.S. citizen. Enrique Martinez Alonso, 44, appeared in federal court in Dallas after being indicted on two felony counts of misrepresenting himself as a U.S. citizen while applying for a Social Security card. Alonso was a paid police informant in a series of major drug seizures in which, lab tests later showed, the evidence contained finely ground gypsum, flour or only trace amounts of illicit substances."
Meanwhile, another confidential informant for the Dallas police
has charged that police "encouraged" him to lie. The
News reported, again on Feb. 8:
A Freedom Ride -- a 36 hour bus ride from Austin to Tulia with press events and demonstrations along the way -- organized by the Texas Network of Reform Groups was held July 22, 2001. The event led up to the "Never Again" Rally and Vigil in Tulia, TX that evening organized by the Tulia-based Friends of Justice. Other participants include the Drug Policy Forum of Texas and Common Sense for Drug Policy, along with LULAC, the NAACP and ACLU. The rally in Tulia July 22-23, 2001 was held to protest the arrest of dozens of African-Americans on bogus drug charges two years earlier -- 15% of the African-American population of this low-income, rural Texas community. (For more background information on the Tulia travesty, click here.) (You can also click here for a streaming video by the Kunstler Foundation about Tulia.)
The Dallas Morning News reported on July 23, 2001 ( "Rally Held To Protest Drug Bust") that "A crowd of about 350 people rallied peacefully in a Tulia park Sunday night to protest a 1999 drug bust they say was racially motivated." The story quotes Will Harrell, executive director of the Texas ACLU and a speaker at the rally, saying "'We need to challenge the drug policy that led to what happened in Tulia two years ago. Tulia has become a symbol of what's wrong with our drug policy. It's got to be a collective effort, and every one of us counts.'"
The Lubbock Avalanche-Journal reported on July 23, 2001 ( "Freedom Ride Hits Tulia") that though the rally was peaceful and orderly, "Police occasionally circled the block, and about 35 officers, including a Department of Public Safety riot team, waited at police headquarters." The Amarillo Globe-News reported July 23, 2001 ( "Rally Commemorates Arrests") explained that "The high number of people expected at the park and the tension from the controversy over the Tulia arrest put local law enforcement on alert." The Amarillo paper quoted Tulia Police Department Lt. Joe Bill Dempsey on the police presence, "'We're going to be out here because we don't want anything to get out of hand. We don't expect any problems and we're going to be as accommodating as possible, but we're going to be prepared.'"
Attempts to intimidate the protesters began on the Freedom Ride itself. According to the Amarillo news story, "The event kicked off with a 'Freedom Ride' from Austin with two buses carrying supporters to a vigil outside the Formby and Wheeler Units in Plainview, where participants protested the number of nonviolent offenders in the prisons. The vigil became a little tense as Assistant Warden Greg Franklin confronted the protesters, demanding that the protesters move to another area and stop videotaping the facility. Kevin Zeese, president of Common Sense for Drug Policy Reform [sic], downplayed the incident and instead chose to focus on the message of the vigil. 'We simply had a disagreement, and I think it was a fairly cordial one,' Zeese said. 'We wanted to get the message out to all the nonviolent drug offenders in there that someone is taking up their cause. I think we were successful in that.'"
The incident at Tulia in 1999 spurred some in the Texas Legislature to act, and reforms were passed in the 2001 session. The Texas Observer did an excellent interview with Texas State Representative Juan Hinojosa (D-McAllen), chair of the House Committee on Criminal Jurisprudence, who "deserves much of the credit" for passage of two of the 'Tulia' bills: "Police must now corrobate evidence collected by undercover informants in drug stings; and law enforcement agencies now have easier access to the disciplinary records of potential employees, making it harder for rogue cops to hop from job to job with no accountability." Click here to read "A Good Shepherd," July 20, 2001, Texas Observer, in the MAPINC archive.
Washington State: Drug Policies, Racially Biased Enforcement Fuel Prison Growth, Continue "Cyclical Nature Of Poverty"
Census figures show that Washington state's prison population nearly doubled during the 1990s, according to a report in the Olympia (WA) Spokesman-Review on July 11, 2001 ( "High Black Prison Population Tied To Drug Policies") that "The 2000 Census counted 28,871 people in state and federal prisons, local jails, military jails and correctional halfway houses in Washington. The incarcerated population increased 98 percent, while total state population grew 21 percent over the same decade. Census data show that 4.6 percent of all black men in Washington are imprisoned. The figure falls to 2.2 percent for American Indians, 1.3 percent for Pacific Islanders and Hispanics, 0.7 percent for whites and 0.4 percent for Asians."
According to the Spokesman-Review, "Experts say drug policies explain the racial disparities. In Washington prisons alone, 22 percent of inmates were convicted of drug crimes. Law enforcement usually targets urban, black neighborhoods for drug busts -- despite equal amounts of drug use across racial lines." (Note: Actually, as Common Sense for Drug Policy pointed out a Public Education Campaign ad published in national magazines in early summer 2001 and reprinted in several African-American weeklies, whites are much more likely to use cocaine or other drugs than African-Americans, but African-Americans are more likely than whites to go to prison when charged with a drug offense. For a copy of the ad, click here.)
The Spokesman-Review reported:
New Jersey Profiling Investigation Leads To Call For Resignation Of State Supreme Court Justice
Acting Governor Donald DiFrancesco (R-NJ) has called on Supreme Court Associate Justice Peter G. Verniero to resign, agreeing with state lawmakers that Mr. Verniero "misled the State Senate about racial profiling in his configuration hearings two years ago. But Justice Verniero turned aside the request as he has a growing number of calls for him to quit." ("New Jersey's Acting Governor Calls For Resignation Of Justice," New York Times, April 6, 2001).
The Associated Press on April 4, 2001 ( "Lawyer: Cops Still Look at Race") reported that "Former NJ Attorney General Peter G. Verniero, now a state Supreme Court justice, broke years of denials two years ago and acknowledged that racial profiling was real. Verniero's admission came one year after two white troopers fired 11 shots at four unarmed minority men - wounding three - during a turnpike traffic stop near Trenton. Last week, Verniero testified for nearly 13 hours and defended his actions as attorney general. On Monday, Verniero said he would not return to testify."
(NJ) Record reported on April 5, 2001 that all eleven
members of the Committee joined in signing a letter urging Acting
Governor DiFrancesco to call for Verniero's immediate resignation
the Case Against Verniero"):
Verniero's Testimony No Help
Mr. Verniero testified on March 28 in Trenton, according to
The New York Times (
Towns: Amnesia Runs Rampant In Testimony"). However,
some have raised questions about his testimony. As the Times reports:
(Editor's Note: A transcript of Mr. Verniero's testimony is available as a PDF. A review of just the first 84 of the 169 pages of Mr. Verniero's testimony yields 162 separate instances in which he responded "I don't recall" to questions, many of which regarded incidents which occurred as recently as 1996 and 1997.)
On April 3, 2001, Judiciary Committee Chairman Senator William Gormley had the Committee hold additional hearings ("Senate Judiciary Committee Schedules Additional Public Hearing Dates For Racial Profiling Investigation") "April 9 and 10, 2001, regarding the Committee's ongoing investigation into racial profiling."
Profiling Persists In New Jersey
The Los Angeles Times
reported on April 4, 2001
Official Says Race Profiling Persists") that
"Some state troopers are still practicing racial profiling
on the New Jersey Turnpike despite a major reform effort,
the state's attorney general told a Senate committee Tuesday."
The testimony by NJ Attorney General John Farmer was startling.
According to the Times:
Background On New Jersey Profiling Investigation
The New Jersey State Legislature has set up this weblink for more information about the Senate Judiciary Committee hearings, including this archive of depositions, testimony and hearing transcripts.
Earlier in the hearing, the
New York Times reported
"Officials Had Profiling Data Before Shooting,
Troopers Say") on March 20, 2001:
New Jersey released 91,000 pages of documents as a result of a consent decree entered into with the US government to settle charges of racial profiling (the notorious "driving while black or brown" offense).
Reports by State and independent monitors appointed to oversee the state police's compliance with the consent decree are also available online.
Study Shows News Reports Overstate Crime, Drug Use By Minorities, Argues That False Perceptions Shape Policy Debate
San Francisco (CA)
Chronicle reported April 10, 2001
Faults Coverage Of Crime") on a new study that
"contends that depictions in the media of murder and
of crimes by youths and minorities are way out of whack with reality,
giving a scary and untrue image of crime in America."
Balance: Youth, Race & Crime In The News" was issued by
the Center for Juvenile and Criminal
Justice and the Berkeley Media Studies Group of the Public
Health Institute April 10. The groups criticized news media
for "reinforcing stereotypes that inhibit society's
ability to respond effectively to the problem of crime, particularly
juvenile crime." According to the report,
Houston Racial Profiling Data Collection Flawed According To Newspaper's Analysis
The Houston Police Department initiated a data collection program
in August 1999. The Houston (TX) Chronicle
reported on April 15 (
Plan To Probe Racial Profiling Flawed")
that "A computer analysis
by the Chronicle shows that after nearly 20 months, the data collected
by the state's largest police force may be seriously flawed."
According to the Chronicle:
Texas Senate Approves Racial Profiling Data Collection Bill; Funding An Issue
The Houston Chronicle reported on April 5, 2001 ("Senate OK's Legislation To Stop Racial Profiling") that "A bill to prevent racial profiling by police -- a practice criticized last week by President Bush and which studies say disproportionately victimizes Hispanics in Texas -- won widespread approval in the state Senate on Wednesday." Groups backing the bill included some law enforcement officers and the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund. An attorney for MALDEF said "Racial profiling is against the law. It's simply wrong, improper and unfair." In an analysis of traffic stops by the Texas Department of Public Safety, "University of Texas economics professor Dwight Stewart found that Hispanics were three times more likely than whites to be searched, while blacks were twice as likely." ( Click here to access Texas racial profiling data collection reports from the Texas Department of Public Safety.)
The legislation may run into funding trouble. According to the Chronicle, "The measure, approved 28-2, requires video cameras and audio equipment in 8,000 patrol cars statewide. It calls for law enforcement agencies to gather uniform and accessible data on the race or ethnicity of individuals stopped and whether they were searched. Law officers would also receive training to follow policies against racial profiling." According to the bill's sponsor, Sen. Royce West (D-Dallas), "I think the biggest roadblock we still have is the issue of funding." The legislation, Senate Bill 1074, "would go into effect only if legislators can raise $35 million in a tight budget year for 8,000 video cameras to equip patrol cars."
Justice Department Report Tracks Police-Public Contact
The Bureau of Justice Statistics has issued a new report, "Contacts between Police & the Public." BJS cautions that the results of this survey cannot be used to establish whether racial profiling exists, because of limitations on the data. However, the results do show some disparities in treatment of people during traffic stops:
The report goes on to note that according to public opinion research, whites were more likely than blacks to have a favorable opinion of local police (85% of whites versus 58% of blacks). Additionally, whites are more likely than blacks to have a great deal or quite a lot of confidence in the police (57% of whites versus 38% of blacks).
New Racial Profiling Bill Introduced In California
The San Jose Mercury News reports that "Police departments would have to record the race of people stopped by officers under a bill proposed by two Los Angeles-area Democrats." ( "Racial-Profiling Bill Again Proposed By Lawmakers" )
Some local departments voluntarily collect the information. According to the Mercury News, "About 70 of the state's 385 law enforcement agencies have applied for state grants to pay for the information gathering." Previous mandatory data collection bills have been vetoed by Governor Gray Davis. The Mercury News notes that "He is the only sitting governor who has vetoed racial profiling legislation."
North Carolina, Philadelphia, and Nationally
Other states and communities report similar problems. A new report on the North Carolina State Highway Patrol is available online, as well as this report by the ACLU on the Philadelphia police department.
In the State of Texas, similar problems have been noted by the
Dallas Morning News.
According to a recent editorial
"Racial Profiling: Ongoing Denials Prompt
Need For Legislation," March 13, 2001), "Last
fall, a Dallas Morning News audit of nearly 900,000 highway
citations revealed that in 26 rural Texas counties the percentage
of African-American drivers ticketed was twice their
proportion of the driving-age population in those counties.
Resources On Racial Profiling
The problem of racial profiling creates a perception of among some African-American and Hispanice people of a police bias against them. The problem of mistrust of authority itself leads to other problems of crime in the community. The Leadership Committee on Civil Rights issued a report on civil rights and the drug war in 2000 which raised serious questions about the fairness of some police practices in enforcing the drug war and the effect of those practices on communities of color. The report, "Justice On Trial: Racial Disparities In The American Criminal Justice System," is available online.