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Police lights/NYPD Credit: Image by tevenet from Pixabay

Sixty-six New Jersey ministers, imams, rabbis and other faith leaders in 15 counties filed a brief at the New Jersey Supreme Court, represented by the ACLU-NJ, urging justices to take action to end racial profiling saying Black and Latino residents are experiencing trauma, humiliation and dehumanization.

The case before the Court concerns an incident in which police officers pulled over three Black men based on a description of two Black men as suspects of a robbery, along with the police officer’s claim that the three men did not visibly react to a spotlight pointed in their direction. The brief asks the Court to bar police officers from conducting stops where the only, or predominant, basis is that the people stopped match the race and gender of the suspects, without any other additional identifying details.

“While courts typically learn about allegations of racial profiling in the context of the rare police actions that yield evidence of criminal behavior, clergy people see the daily trauma of racial profiling, which unfairly casts the shadow of suspicion based solely on race without leading to any arrest,” said ACLU-NJ Director of Supreme Court Advocacy Alexander Shalom. “Clergy serve as daily witnesses to the reality that racial profiling does not simply hurt individuals—it injures entire communities.”

Numbers from ACLU-NJ says on the New Jersey Turnpike, 46% of Black drivers are stopped and subjected to consent searches compared to only 26% of white drivers. Data from Stanford University’s Open Policing Project reveals that nearly 60% of Black drivers received summons from traffic stops.

In 2016, ACLU-NJ released leaked emails from Wyckoff Police Department Chief Benjamin Fox, which said that racial profiling was appropriate when it’s applied fairly. He said Black gang members from a neighboring township burglarize homes and businesses in Wyckoff. Fox also said that Black people from New York City sell heroin to white kids in his town. Fox was suspended from his position and later retired.

The Garden State has a long history of grappling with racial profiling. In 2003, the State of New Jersey agreed to pay more than $775,000 to motorists who were victims of racial profiling to settle lawsuits brought by ACLU-NJ. The lawsuits were filed on behalf of 12 motorists who were targeted for traffic stops based on their skin color.

Last November, Gov. Phil Murphy signed legislation requiring that by June 1 every uniformed patrol officer in New Jersey must wear a bodycam while on duty. Previously, fewer than half of the law enforcement agencies in the state had bodycams. In January, Murphy signed another law appropriating $58 million for grants-in-aid to support the statewide body worn camera program.

“The clergy members we represent provide pastoral care in and to diverse communities throughout New Jersey, and they share a common experience: Each one has served members of their communities who have been stopped by police because of their race,” said ACLU-NJ Legal Director Jeanne LoCicero. “The clergy members in this suit have seen the trauma of people close to them after unjustified stops based on their race, and they have counseled people through the fear and psychological wounds that follow them from those encounters.”