Tale from the Tobacco Road

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Nov 11, 2009 3:54 pm

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.
 
 
 
 
 
Nov 11, 2009 4:32 pm

Bonds markets are closed today, huh bondguy

Nov 11, 2009 4:32 pm

Your prose is wonderful.  The story a gripping and moving one of a corrupt governmental body whose only duty is to protect and serve going well beyond their legal limits and encroaching on the rights of citizens.  We live in the United States of America, not mother Russia.   

 
However,the moral of your story is lacking.  Sometimes the profiling is a good thing. Here in the meth capitol of the US if someone walks into a Walgreens and picks up 10 packs of Sudafed, they're not trying to clear their sinuses.    I want the airport security watching Mr. Punjaab and his "friends" a lot more closely than I do Mrs. Quattlebaum.  I want my local police watching the guy in the Caddy with IL plates with the expensive spinners and the seat leaned too far back (to protect himself from the flying lead in my predominantly white very quiet suburb) a lot more than I do the guy in the Members Only jacket in the rusted out, paint peeling 85 Camaro. 
 
I would assume your commentary centers around the profiling that has been brought to the forefront due to the Muslim terrorist in TX.  What was that phrase earlier "If it looks like a duck"?  This PC, don't talk about the Muslims and their holy book, is a bunch of crap.  The media assumes that if I'm a fundamental Christian that I'm going to blow up an abortion clinic.  And it's OK for them to say that.  God, or Allah, forbid that I say anything negative about anyone wearing a turban and holding an AK-47.   
Nov 11, 2009 4:40 pm
gethardgetraw:

Bonds markets are closed today, huh bondguy

 
We've gotta winna!
 
Yeah, and the Nor'easter here blew out surf fishing.
Nov 11, 2009 4:41 pm
Spaceman Spiff:

....We live in the United States of America, not mother Russia...



I was illegally stopped and illegally searched in Ohio just for having a
Grateful Dead bumper sticker on my car.
I hope and pray that the officers who did that to me die a horrible death.

This is the United States of America...not mother Russia.


Nov 11, 2009 4:48 pm

BG, there is a HUUUUGGGGEEEE difference between cops who should be protecting the citizens but instead playing a game of "Who can torture and capture the most black folk today?" and airport security pulling more Muslim people aside for "random" bag checks than regular american folks.  Now if the security starts taking the Muslim's into the back room and cutting up their turbans and doing full cavity inspections just to "remind them who's in charge" then yes, we will have a solid comparison.

Nov 11, 2009 4:54 pm

The moral is the abuse of power. If a police force would subvert its mission to this extent over a drug trade they can't stop, what happens when they use saving human life as their motivation to take a can opener to your car?

 
Not your problem you say?
 
Jack black's post of Niemoller's words:
 
When they came for me
there was no one left to speak out.
 
The slope gets very slippery very fast when it comes to the suspension of rights.
 
 
Nov 11, 2009 5:02 pm
3rdyrp2:

BG, there is a HUUUUGGGGEEEE difference between cops who should be protecting the citizens but instead playing a game of "Who can torture and capture the most black folk today?" and airport security pulling more Muslim people aside for "random" bag checks than regular american folks.  Now if the security starts taking the Muslim's into the back room and cutting up their turbans and doing full cavity inspections just to "remind them who's in charge" then yes, we will have a solid comparison.

 
There is no difference at all. The NJSP was acting with the blessing of the governor and the attorney general. This wasn't rogue cops. Nor was it a game. To the people who suffered the abuse it was anything but. This was intitutionalized racial profiling sanctioned to achieve a greater good. Exactly what you and others want with regard to Muslims. Was it  abused? No! it was illegal from top to bottom!
 
As for abuse of airport security maybe we're reading different newspapers, but there are abuses. Stolen electronics, illegal seizures with the agents pocketing the stolen goods. Abuse of scanners to defile female passengers. It's ugly!
Nov 11, 2009 5:05 pm
[email protected]:
Spaceman Spiff:

....We live in the United States of America, not mother Russia...



I was illegally stopped and illegally searched in Ohio just for having a Grateful Dead bumper sticker on my car.
I hope and pray that the officers who did that to me die a horrible death.

This is the United States of America...not mother Russia.

 
My father made me get a haircut when i got my driver's license. The police had a rep for pulling over long hairs and destroying their cars during the ensuing search. Planting drugs was popular with on local department until they got busted.
 
Sad commentary.
Nov 11, 2009 5:06 pm

I believe that when you abridge anyone’s rights you abridge mine. Most of my uncle’s family did not make it out of <?: prefix = st1 ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags" />Austria during WWII. Standing by while they are taking away some one else’s rights is not an option for me.


<?: prefix = o ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office" /> 





Nov 11, 2009 5:16 pm

Not rogue cops?!?!  Not a game?!?!  So if the governor of Missouri had put some policy in place to increase police awareness to drugs on the interstate, then there would have been cops in Missouri that would have destroyed the cars of black families and grandmas on the side of the road?  What you're saying is that it wasn't the cops, it was the government, therefore no matter which state had instituted this "program", then that states cops would definitely have abused their powers and taken racial profiling to the extreme that we saw in NJ?  Come on now, BG.

Nov 11, 2009 6:24 pm
3rdyrp2:

Not rogue cops?!?!  Not a game?!?!  So if the governor of Missouri had put some policy in place to increase police awareness to drugs on the interstate, then there would have been cops in Missouri that would have destroyed the cars of black families and grandmas on the side of the road?  What you're saying is that it wasn't the cops, it was the government, therefore no matter which state had instituted this "program", then that states cops would definitely have abused their powers and taken racial profiling to the extreme that we saw in NJ?  Come on now, BG.

 
Yes it was the government. The program started out as a drug interdiction. Good cause!However, the SP were rewarded by the number of arrests they made. This led to the abuse. The ass kicking nature of how people were treated is intimidation to show people who is boss. We all know that when pulled over you don't give any crap to the police. Why is that? We all know it's an invitation to end up face down in the gravel. Th NJTP took that to extreme. They were rewarded by the state with promotions for doing so. There was no one to stop them.
 
However, the crime here, with regard to racial profiling,  isn't the abusive treatment. it's the stop itself. Civil rights were violated the moment the officers pulled these motorist over. That's the crime. The rest, the abusive treatment, is the result of these stops becoming sanctioned the highest levels.
 
 
 
 
Nov 11, 2009 7:01 pm
[email protected]:
Spaceman Spiff:

....We live in the United States of America, not mother Russia...



I was illegally stopped and illegally searched in Ohio just for having a Grateful Dead bumper sticker on my car.
I hope and pray that the officers who did that to me die a horrible death.

This is the United States of America...not mother Russia.

 
But the US can not torture terrorists?
 
You were probably just kidding though, right?
Nov 11, 2009 7:20 pm

BG, great piece of writing! Felt like I was standing by the side of Rt. 54 with you as I read it.



Two things...



1) If I remember correctly, Jersey troopers only have red lights on their cars. Hearkening back to my youthful "irrational exuberance" on the Garden State's byways has me seeing only flashing red in my mirror on the Atlantic City Expressway.



2) Are we engaged in a War on Terrorism, or is this only a Mildly Irritated Spat With Terrorism? If we're at war, really and truly at war, then is it safe to assume that some degree of profiling could be tolerated, yea even expected, for the greater good? If we're not at war, then all normalcy is expected. Are we operating now with any degree of normalcy post 9/11?

Nov 11, 2009 7:55 pm
2wheeledbeemer:

BG, great piece of writing! Felt like I was standing by the side of Rt. 54 with you as I read it.

Two things...

1) If I remember correctly, Jersey troopers only have red lights on their cars. Hearkening back to my youthful "irrational exuberance" on the Garden State's byways has me seeing only flashing red in my mirror on the Atlantic City Expressway.

2) Are we engaged in a War on Terrorism, or is this only a Mildly Irritated Spat With Terrorism? If we're at war, really and truly at war, then is it safe to assume that some degree of profiling could be tolerated, yea even expected, for the greater good? If we're not at war, then all normalcy is expected. Are we operating now with any degree of normalcy post 9/11?

 
The lights use to be all red but are now red and blue. I took liberty to modernize the story. However, the basics of the story are founded in fact. Black family, black male driver, nice vehicle, family vehicle offen used as cover, Florida plates, cops pulling over as many blacks as possible to get a hit, state gov denial of an issue, illegal activity condoned at all levels of authority.
 
We are absolutely at war with terrorists. However, we cannot destroy who we are, what we stand for, to fight them. When we trade rights for protection they win. That said, The racial profiling issue is sticky. I agree with racial profiling where it makes sense. A white male in a blue dodge pickup robs a bank. Police should be stopping every white guy in a blue pickup that they can find. But what about profiling an entire race? or, an entire religion. How do you do that without it becoming the New Jersey Turnpike all over again? How do we justify suspending the rights of some americans and not others? And that suspension is based on prejudice? That can't work. There has to be a filter beyond race or relegion. As in my example we have to have more to go on than just race. We can't discriminate against an entire class of people. To do so is the NJTP on a national level.
 
jackblack is hitting the nail on the head- when you take away their rights you've taken away my rights. When that happens the terrorist win as they will have destroyed who we are.
 
 
Nov 11, 2009 8:19 pm

Yes. Let's let them win. To "keep who we are".



I have another NC story for you. In the waning days of the Bush administration, intelligence was obtained from a captured terrorist that led the FBI to watch a small town in NC. Specifically some Muslims in that town. 7 were arrested. They were planning on blowing up a school in neighboring county.
Not to mention capturing and killing American's abroad.


The only difference is that my story is true.

Nov 11, 2009 8:31 pm
Moraen:

Yes. Let's let them win. To "keep who we are".

I have another NC story for you. In the waning days of the Bush administration, intelligence was obtained from a captured terrorist that led the FBI to watch a small town in NC. Specifically some Muslims in that town. 16 were arrested. They were planning on blowing up a school in neighboring county.

The only difference is that my story is true.

 
I just hope they didn't violate or harm that captured terrorist to get that information out of him. He has rights too. They should have calmly discussed with him any relationships he might have over a cup of coffee.
Nov 11, 2009 8:43 pm

Not quite. NJ is bad. But where our Prez hails from is worse. Somebody mentoned mother Russia. They are less corrupt. NO to. When I was in NO, we were literally watching drug deals happen with no authority to stop it. The police just told us to keep watching. Meanwhile, they were driving 50k cars with 20k rims.

Nov 11, 2009 10:51 pm
DeBolt:
[email protected]:
Spaceman Spiff:

....We live in the United States of America, not mother Russia...


I was illegally stopped and illegally searched in Ohio just for having a Grateful Dead bumper sticker on my car.
I hope and pray that the officers who did that to me die a horrible death.
This is the United States of America...not mother Russia.

But the US can not torture terrorists?
You were probably just kidding though, right?



I meant every word. I hold police to a higher standard than some opium smoking terrorist.

When I got stopped, there was no question that the officers broke the law. They brought the canines and said there were drugs in the trunk. They cuffed me and put me in the back of the patrol car while they unpacked my car onto the road (I was moving).

Not only did I not use drugs, but I was never around anyone who used drugs. They trained their dogs to give a false positive. If they are willing to do this, I'm sure they also plant drugs on people too.

Nov 11, 2009 11:12 pm

We all have stories about cops going over the line.  I was driving on Pentagon property a few years ago (Crazy but in the area I was living, in order to get to the other side of Arlington you HAVE to drive through the Pentagon parking lot) and I coasted through a stop sign.  Got pulled over.  Was scared s***less because I had been drinking a little, enough to fail a breathalyzer but not enough to where I had to worry about driving skills.  Female cop came to my car, asked for license.  For some reason the license didn't register on her computer.  She called for backup.  Backup cop came to my car, threatened me if I lied about why my license was suspended (It wasn't) then I'd be in deep s***.  I told him I didn't know why it was showing up like that.  He told me to get out of the car, got in my face and said "If you have a suspended license due to a DUI, you will be through.  Trust me."  I chuckled because I felt bad for the guy and why he had the anger he had.  He asked how much I'd been drinking.  I lied and told him I hadn't.  He put me through a sobriety test anyways.  I passed easily.  He said "You're lucky son.  You're very lucky."  Girl cop called him back to the car, told him my license came through the system fine finally.  He came back to my car, told me once again how lucky I was, and that I should think twice about driving through the Pentagon next time.  The rage I had in my system for the next 48 hours was unspeakable.  I'm lucky because his cop car computer finally worked?  I should think twice next time about driving there because his computer sucked, and I coasted through a stop sign on a Friday night when I was the only idiot in the parking lot?  What gives him the right?  But I got over it.  I figure if he's guarding the most secure building the nations capital I'd rather him be on the ornery side than the other way around.  I'm white by the way.  And so were both of the cops.