TRENTON (FinalCall.com)–New Jersey Governor James McGreevey (D) signed a bill March 14 that made racial profiling by public officials, including police officers, a crime.
The new law creates the crime of “official deprivation” of civil rights, making it illegal for law enforcement officers to use race, color, religion, ethnicity, gender and age as a means to discriminate against individuals.
The penalties are up to five years in prison and $15,000 fine. If a profiled arrest ends in an assault or death, the officer will face stiffer penalties.
“The new law is definitely a step forward. Racial profiling has finally been outlawed, but we must take a wait-and-see attitude,” Lawrence Hamm, co-founder of the Newark-based Peoples Organization for Progress, told The Final Call. “The question on our minds is how would the law be implemented, and by whom.”
Rev. Reginald Jackson, executive director of the Black Ministers Council, told reporters, “The problem with local police is worse than it has ever been and has to be examined.”
Acting State’s Attorney General Peter Harvey agreed, saying, “I see profiling at the municipal level as a continuing problem.”
“The local police departments will use the threat of terrorism to continue to profile people of color,” Mr. Hamm stressed.
The state of New Jersey agreed in January 2003 to pay more than $775,000 to motorists who were victims of racial profiling to settle a lawsuit brought by the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey. That suit involved persons who said they were profiled because of their Middle Eastern looks.
The ACLU of Pennsylvania argued successfully for three Black motorists in 2002, settling for $250,000 in damages.
“In order to remove the stain of racial profiling, it is necessary for the state of New Jersey to compensate the victims and to insure that such practices do not occur in the future,” Deborah Jacobs, director of the NJACLU, said in a prepared statement.
Mr. Hamm said that over 200 officers from around the state demonstrated in Trenton two days before the bill was signed. The protestors said they were against making racial profiling a crime. Some officers even said they were confident a pending attorney general ruling clears them from possible prosecution, according to Mr. Hamm.
Police want to use racial and ethnic description when calling in stops as a way to clear themselves from being accused of profiling. Acting State’s Attorney Harvey would not comment on that issue. Chief Edward Pelini, president of the state Association of Chiefs of Police, declined to comment on allegations that local municipalities would continue to racially profile people.