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2000-01-04

New Jersey Agrees to Have Outside Civilian Monitor in Effort to End Racial Profiling By State Troopers

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Under pressure from the U.S. Justice Department, New Jersey agreed last week to the appointment of an outside civilian monitor to make sure the State Police end racial profiling and other discriminatory practices. [includes rush transcript]

The consent decree, which awaits judicial approval, is a way to avoid a full-blown civil rights battle in open court, according to Bill Lann Lee, acting chief of the federal Division of Civil Rights.

The public will have access to some of these results. The consent decree provides for reports to be made public every six months with statistics on highway traffic stops, including the race of those stopped and the results of the stops.

Earlier this year, the state acknowledged racial profiling of motorists and racial discrimination within the State Police ranks.

Guest:

  • Vincent Bellaran, former state trooper of New Jersey, who sued the department over its practice of racial profiling and won.

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re also joined on the telephone by the first state trooper of New Jersey — African American state trooper — who brought a lawsuit against the state troopers for discrimination.

In the last weeks, under pressure from the Justice Department, New Jersey has agreed to the appointment of an outside civilian monitor to make sure that the New Jersey State Police end racial profiling and other discriminatory practices.

The consent decree, which allows judicial approval — well, it awaits judicial approval — is a way to avoid a full-blown civil rights battle in open court. This according the acting Chief of the Federal Division of Civil Rights, Bill Lann Lee.

Federal authorities also require New Jersey to expand its planned system to track trooper patrols with an eye toward detecting any troubling patterns. Authorities also require that the system be in place within six months.

The public will have access to some of these results. The consent decree provides for reports to be made public every six months, with statistics on highway traffic stops, including the race of those stopped and the results of the stops.

Earlier this year, New Jersey acknowledged racial profiling of motorists and racial discrimination within the New Jersey State Police ranks.

I want to welcome our guest to the airwaves, Vincent Bellaran. Welcome to Democracy Now!

VINCENT BELLARAN: Hi. How are you?

AMY GOODMAN: Hi. It’s good to be with you. Can you talk about this decision, which is unprecedented, this consent decree, which still awaits judicial approval?

VINCENT BELLARAN: Well, racism is a monumental problem for minorities within the state police and outside of it. It was never a problem for white men, which is why it still flourishes today.

You have a judge who found in our favor, who is now going to oversee these guidelines. The problem she will always have and the problem the public will always have is that the state police and the AG’s office is not forthcoming with the truth. And what I mean by that is we are here today because of judges and because of the public not getting the truth. You would have to ask 60,000 questions to finally get to the meat of it. It’s a systemic problem. It’s a problem that is flourishing with nepotism and cronyism. What they do is they beget themselves.

The problem that Judge Cooper will probably have is trying to disseminate what actually is going when she gets these numbers. And what I mean by that is, as we speak, we would have a colonel who would investigate, for example, several troopers for fudging numbers. And the numbers that we’re talking about is when Lieutenant Colonel Fedorko was within the Division of State Police, he would applaud the increase in summonses, that everything was going on track, that the racial profiling problem was not a major thing, that we were by that. But, in fact, what was going on is the state police were pushing troopers to get numbers. They didn’t care how they got the numbers. They wanted the numbers, and I mean by that the summonses and the rest. What they found is that they’re fudging these numbers.

Now, the Division of State Police has never been an even playing field. We’re investigating a lot of minority troopers who were involved in this, because this is what they were asked to do. By the same token, they will not pressure a captain who would allow other troopers — white troopers — to play golf on Wednesdays with the captain and carry this as part of their equipment in their troop car. Now, everyone — in a situation like this, when you have the have and have-nots, it’s not an even playing field. I’m guilty of it myself. It gets to the point where you look and say, you know, why should I spit-shine my shoes and tow that line and obey the rules and regulations — because I promised to do that when I graduated from the Academy — when you really don’t have to? Because you’re looking at other individuals who don’t have to go by these guidelines. You’re looking at other individuals in the Division of State Police who basically can do whatever they want and get away with it. And if they do not get away with it, someone within the outfit will cover it up for them.

This is the problem that Judge Cooper will have. I think she’s been lied to before. In fact, I know that for a fact during my trial. I think she’s aware of how far they will go to try to use damage control to hide the truth. And I think basically what the Division of State Police has to get down to doing, which they’re not doing, I feel, right now, is becoming public servants, becoming a cop that the public can trust.

AMY GOODMAN: What did it take for you to file the lawsuit?

VINCENT BELLARAN: Basically, it got to the point where I really didn’t have a choice. I tried everything I did within the Division of State Police, because — and I’m still a trooper, and I always felt myself being a trooper’s trooper — of using every avenue that they gave me to solve the problem I was having with racism within the outfit.

Now, again, racism is a monumental problem, but there are other issues around it that allow it to exist. And what had happened is, no matter where I went, and every avenue I used to solve this problem, I was being addressed with just blatant criticism, retaliation, to the point of being referred to — having derogatory statements made to me that were just off-color.

You have an organization which is ripe with this, which has never changed with society over the years, which is run by white men who have this inset hate for people of color. Now, you have a lot — and it’s not all white men, and I’ll say this right now, because people say it all the time: you know, you’re using the wide brush. No, I’m not using the wide brush. I’m just talking about men who are in power who can continue and condone this thinking.

What you do have are individuals who are locked in it, and white troopers, for example, who are — they utter something or complain about it, it is career suicide. And I’m a perfect example of that. But you have other white troopers who — actually, not many — but who are sickened by it and have said something, and they are just buried deep in the bowels of the Division of State Police.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, I want to thank you very much for being with us, Vincent Bellaran, state trooper, New Jersey, who first brought a lawsuit against the New Jersey State Troopers for racial discrimination. And now we have the decision that is awaiting judicial approval to bring in a civilian outside monitor to make sure that the New Jersey State Police end racial profiling and other discriminatory practices.

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