Driving it

printVoices from the Road

Perspectives on Racial Profiling
Speaking Out on the Issue

Racial profiling—the practice of using skin color as an indication of possible criminality—takes place every day in various settings throughout the United States. Beginning in the 1990s, reports of racial profiling by the State Police on the New Jersey Turnpike were increasingly in the news. The practice produced considerable attention from civil rights organizations, federal, state and local governmental bodies, and scholars.

While racial profiling is not new, the problem was escalated along the Turnpike by the federal government's "war on drugs." As the New Jersey Turnpike increasingly served as a major conduit for drug smugglers headed into New York, State Troopers stepped up their drug interdiction efforts, adopting U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration guidelines that essentially sanctioned racial profiling. Here, read various reactions to the problem.


". . . racial profiling is an issue we have to resolve, not only in New Jersey but across the nation."

Rev. Reginald T. Jackson, Director, New Jersey Black Ministers Council, quoted in the New York Times, February 3, 2001


"Basically, we were told to get people with drugs and we went and got them and troopers were very aggressive with it . . . we were never taught to racial profile. We were taught a criminal profile and at times, race came into play."

Edward H. Lennon, President, State Troopers Fraternal Association, quoted in The Record, November 29, 2000


"From the outset, the war on drugs has in fact been a war on people and their constitutional rights, with African Americans, Latinos, and other minorities bearing the brunt of the damage. It is a war that has, among other depredations, spawned racist profiles of supposed drug couriers. On our nation's highways today, police ostensibly looking for drug criminals routinely stop drivers based on the color of their skin."

David Harris, Professor of Law, University of Toledo College of Law, in "Driving While Black: Racial Profiling on Our Nation's Highways," An American Civil Liberties Union Special Report, June 1999


"The first and the last exits [on the Turnpike] were crucial [when we traveled to South Carolina in the late 1950s] because at the last exit on the Jersey Turnpike you were then moving closer to the South, and as you know back in those times that was a real issue, because once you got past Washington, D.C., you really were going to have serious problems about where you could exit. . . . I became aware that the New Jersey Turnpike was really a symbol of safe haven. It's quite ironic, that in 2001, because of what's transpired with racial profiling on the Turnpike, it's amazing to me how history can really change the perceptions of people. Looking at the Turnpike through the eyes of an African American woman . . . how saddened I was when I heard about the young Black men not being safe on that highway—juxtaposed to how safe we felt as a Black family and being close to home [when we came onto the road on our return trip from the South] even though it was going to be an almost 3-hour ride. It was symbolic of the safety, the cleanness, and the speed by which you could move unencumbered."

Cynthia Jones, Bronx resident, comparing driving on the New Jersey Turnpike in the late 1950s to today, 2001