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Shifting Gears on Racial Profiling By: Chris Weinkopf
FrontPageMagazine.com | Wednesday, April 03, 2002

THE VERY MORNING I filed my last column about efforts to suppress a politically incorrect study of racial profiling, the PC censors reversed course and released the study after all.

They had little choice. The study, which debunks allegations that New Jersey state troopers routinely pull over motorists for the “crime” of Driving While Black, was already public knowledge. Despite the best efforts of state officials and the U.S. Department of Justice, the report had been leaked to the New York Times, and was available on the Bergen Record’s website.

Its findings that black motorists along the New Jersey Turnpike are almost twice as likely to speed than whites were no longer a secret. Nor was the obvious conclusion: It’s driving behavior, not skin color, that determines whom New Jersey troopers pull over.

The ten-week old suppression effort had outlived its usefulness. And so instantly, everyone with a vested interest in perpetuating an overblown belief in the prevalence of unjustified racial profiling had to change tactics. Unable to censor the study, they would smear it instead.

Leading the charge was the Rev. William H. Rutherford, head of the New Jersey chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. “It just galls me to hear anyone make the statement that African-Americans are more likely to speed than whites or others on the turnpike,” he told the Times. “Just drive on the turnpike. Everybody’s speeding.”

Everybody may be speeding, but blacks are statistically more likely than whites to put the pedal to the metal, at least in New Jersey. On the turnpike, black drivers account for 25 percent of the speeders and 23 percent of the traffic stops. Those numbers come from the Public Service Research Institute’s comprehensive examination of the photographs of nearly 40,000 turnpike drivers. No matter how much they may gall Rutherford, they’re a lot more credible than his anecdotal musings.

They also carry more weight than the denials of New Jersey officials, most notably David Samson, the state’s attorney general. After begrudgingly releasing the PSRI study, Samson tried to wash his hands of the whole mess, noting that it wasn’t he, but his predecessor, who commissioned the report. He didn’t mention, of course, that his predecessor had fully expected to find evidence of racial profiling; nor did he try to address the report’s substantive findings. Instead, he dug in his heels, insisting that the study “does not alter the past or undermine the evidence that profiling was real.”

So why, then, was he so reluctant to make it public?

The Justice Department took the unusual step of issuing a list of its objections along with the report. Mark Posner, a lawyer in the department’s special litigation section, argued that windshield glare, weather, and camera placement compromised PSRI researchers’ ability to guess the motorists’ race, thereby invalidating the study’s results. But as several readers of my last column pointed out, if teams of analysts using high-tech equipment can’t reliably guess a driver’s race, then cops watching cars whiz by at speeds of 80 mph probably can’t, either. Either way, rampant racial profiling seems doubtful.

Not as far as the racial agitators are concerned. For them, a vast conspiracy of racist police officers is an article of faith. If the evidence is at odds with their ideological convictions, then there must be something wrong with the evidence.

While Rutherford, Simon, and Posner trash the PSRI report, they cling to an earlier study, the “Interim Report of the State Police Review Team Regarding Allegations of Racial Profiling,” released by then-New Jersey Attorney General Peter Verniero in 1999. The Verniero report, which found that irrespective of speeding, state troopers search black and Hispanic motorists at nearly four times the rate they search whites, is the justification for a costly consent decree that the Justice Department maintains on the New Jersey State Police. Verniero is the smoking gun for those who insist the latest evidence notwithstanding that racial profiling is widespread.

Yet Verniero is actually far less reliable than the PSRI study. In a devastating assessment published in City Journal last year, Heather Mac Donald observed that:

"…Verniero finds culpable racial imbalance in the search figures without suggesting a proper benchmark. He simply assumes that 53 percent black consent searches is too high. Compared with what? If blacks in fact carry drugs at a higher rate than do whites, then this search rate merely reflects good law enforcement. If the police are now to be accused of racism every time that they go where the crime is, that’s the end of public safety."

As Mac Donald argues in a new article, what makes the PSRI study of racial profiling more useful than its predecessors is that it attempts to establish precisely such a benchmark. It determines not only how often minorities are pulled over on the turnpike, but also how often they speed. That, in turn, provides a far better indicator of whether they are singled out unfairly for traffic stops.

But while Verniero’s study is treated as Gospel truth, its superior successor has been denounced by the would-be censors as grand heresy. Politics have trumped science, and not just at the NAACP or among New Jersey politicians, but in John Ashcroft’s Department of Justice, too.

Chris Weinkopf is an editorial writer and columnist for the Los Angeles Daily News. To read his weekly Daily News column, click here. E-mail him at chris.weinkopf@dailynews.com.

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