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The Given Order
Reckless Endangerment
Commencement 2002

It is good to know that racial politics still triumph over the honest disclosure of information. By now we have all heard about the New Jersey Highway Patrol, and how it stops more blacks than whites. People immediately cried foul, citing racial profiling and racism. As it turns out, blacks were being pulled over for a reason: they speed more than whites, at least according to a new study commissioned by the Justice Department and carried out by the New Jersey Highway Patrol.

For years, critics of the NJ Highway Patrol have claimed that while blacks make up just 16 percent of all drivers on the NJ Turnpike, they are 23 percent of all motorists stopped. However, the study showed that blacks make up 26 percent of all speeders on the New Jersey Turnpike. For example, in 55-mph zones, 13.1 percent of all blacks sped, compared to 13.5 percent of all whites. However, in 65-mph zones, 2.7 percent of all blacks, as opposed to 1.4 percent of all whites sped. These are the parts of the Turnpike where there have been most complaints of racial profiling.

Since the completion of the study, the NAACP, the Justice Department, and the New Jersey Attorney Generalís Office have united to stifle its release and have publicly questioned its validity.

In the study, high-speed cameras were placed in various spots along the Turnpike, taking photographs of motorists who exceeded the speed limit by more than 15 miles per hour. The photographs were then given to teams of three people who would identify the race of each motorist. One of the complaints by the NAACP is that in a third of the instances, the observers could not tell the race of the subjects due to window glare. However, window glare does not discriminate according to race, gender, ethnicity, creed, or sexual orientation.

Another complaint against the study is that it implies that blacks are more likely to speed. Opponents claim that this finding is false, since there is no genetic proclivity towards speeding in African- Americans. What a bizarre argument. No one ever claimed that blacks are genetically programmed to commit more traffic violations. It may be a cultural phenomenon, a hormonal phenomenon, or even just a random truth without significant reasons behind it. Regardless of the reasons, the facts are clear: blacks on the New Jersey Turnpike are statistically more likely to speed than whites.

Finally, a possible flaw in the study is that it undercounted the actual number of Hispanic motorists on the turnpike (4.8 percent was recorded, yet in actuality, the number is around 14.2 percent). Researchers say that this is probably because the observers classified Hispanics as being white in most instances.

It is true that this study has some weaknesses. However, the previous method of finding out whether profiling was occurring was entirely unscientific. Before this study, activists claimed that there was racial profiling in any instance when the police were more likely to stop a minority than a white personó neglecting to take into account whether minorities were more likely to commit traffic violations or not.

The only study which took that into account was co-sponsored by researchers at Temple and Carnegie- Mellon Universities in 1994, in which professors had students go on the turnpike and look through binoculars to divine the race of motorists. This study showed that blacks were less likely to speed than whites. Despite being riddled with obvious methodological flaws it was accepted without questioning by the racial profiling activist community. In the Temple-CMU study, the college students decided the race of the subject and knew whether the subject had sped or not, introducing observer bias into the study. By contrast, in the Justice Department study, the observers did not know whether they were looking at photographs of those who sped or those who didnít.

Some activists, like the Rev. William Rutherford of the New Jersey chapter of the NAACP and legal activist Lloyd Williams, have claimed that it is not important to take the race of violators into account since everyone knows that blacks are not more likely to commit these crimes. This kind of thinking borders on racism, arrogantly assuming that it is impossible for blacks to do wrong on a systematic scale.

No one is asking that blacks feel inferior to whites. What is being asked is for people to simply admit that it is possible that blacks are more likely to commit these crimes than whites are. We know that profiling existed on the New Jersey Turnpike in the early 1990ís, and most likely still exists today. However, it is not true that it is a grave systematic problem now, as critics of the New Jersey police have claimed. When activists claim to see racial profiling everywhere, it makes it harder for our society to focus on legitimate cases of police discrimination, thus hurting the minorities that the activists were claiming to help.


 
 

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