Goldberg - The Color of Suspicion

Goldberg - The Color of Suspicion - ereas those lle...

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Unformatted text preview: ereas those lle category splicated in blacks dis- ew York, the id 79. In no ear display a segregation, d little or no . segregation a value of 67 l Atlanta, Bal- :ively low lev— 11 by income: 1 index of 46, 5. n irrespective and availabil— examined this '5 Detroit Area iousing costs and were well keeping afflu— :arkly revealed les metropoli- nder $2,500 in arning $50,000 1e poorest His- e was 79). Sim— tins the largest ation index fell d with respec~ eated in cities ally begins at a .‘lSBS. education and fore, black seg- 5 falls progres- 1gh segregation racial segrega- The residential igful way to the se may be. CHAPTER The Color of Suspicion JEFFREY GOLDBERG highly caffeinated drug warrior who, on this shiny May morning outside of An- napolis, is conceding defeat. The drug war is over, the good guys have lost and hehas been cast as a racist. “This is the end, buddy," he says. “I can read the writing on the wall." Lewis is driving his unmarked Crown Victoria down the fast lane of Route 50, looking for bad guys. The back of his neck is burnt by the sun, and he wears his hair flat and short under his regulation Stetson. “They’re going to let the N.A.A.C.P tell us how to do traffic stops,” he says. "That’s what’s happening. There may be a few troopers who make stops solely based on race, but this—they’re going to let these people tell us how to run our depart— ment. 1 say, to hell with it all. 1 don’t care if the drugs go through. I don’t.” He does, of course. Mike Lewis was born to seize crack. He grew up in Salisbury, on the Eastern Shore—~Iimmy Buffett country—«and he watched his friends become stoners and acid freaks. Not his scene. He buzz—cut his hair away and joined the state troopers when he was 19. He’s a star, the hard—charger who made one of the nation's largest seizures of crack cocaine out on Route 13. He's a national expert on hidden compartments. He can tell if a man’s lying, he says, by watching the pulsing of the carotid artery in his neck. He can smell crack cocaine inside a closed automobile. He’sa human drug dog, a walking polygraph machine. “I have the unique ability to distinguish between a law—abiding citizen and an up—to-no—good person,” he says. “Black or white." All these skills, though, he’s ready to chuck. The lawsuits accusing the Maryland State Police of harassing black drivers, the public excoriation—and most of all, the Governor of New Iersey saying that her state police profiled drivers based on race, and were wrong to do so—have twisted him up inside. “Three of my men have put in for transfers,” he says. “My wife wants me to get out. I'm depressed.” What depresses Mike Lewis is that he believes he is in possession ofa truth po- lite society is too cowardly to accept. He says that when someone tells this particu— lar truth, his head is handed to him. “The superintendent of the New Jersey State Police told the truth and he got fired for it," Lewis says. 141 ‘ Sgt. Mike Lewis of the Maryland State Police is a bullnecked, megaphone-voiced, 142 PART F0 U R - Racism This is what (jarl Williams said, fueling a national debate about racial profiling in law enforcement: “Today, with this drug problem, the drug problem is cocaine or marijuana. it is most likely a minority group that's involved with that." Gov. Chris- tine Todd Whitman fired Williams, and the news ricocheted through police depart- ments everywhere, especially those, like the Maryland State Police, already accused of racial profiling—the stopping and searching of blacks because they are black. The way cops perceive blacksiand how those perceptions shape and mis- shape crime fightinguis now the most charged racial issue in America. The sys- tematic harassment of black drivers in New Jersey, the shooting of Amadou Diallo, an unarmed African immigrant, by New York (jity police officers earlier this year, and other incidents in other states have brought the relationship between blacks and cops to a level of seemingly irreversible toxicity. Neither side understands the other. The innocent black man, jacked—up and humiliated during a stop—and—frisk or a pretext car stop, asks: Whatever happened to the Fourth Amendment? It is no wonder, blacks say, that the police are so wildly rnistrusted. And then there’s the cop, who says: Why shouldn't I look at race when I'm look— ing for crime? It is no state secret that blacks commit a disproportionate amount of crime, so “racial profiling" is simply good police work. Mike Lewis wishes that all this talk of racial profiling would simply stop. As we drive, Lewis watches a van come tip on his right and pass him. A young black man is at the wheel, his left leg hanging out the window. The blood races up Lewis's face: “Look at that! That's a violation! You can’t drive like that! But I'm not going to stop him. No, sir. lfl do, he's just going to call me a racist." Then Lewis notices that the van is a state government vehicle. “This is ridicu- lous," he says. Lewis hits his lights. The driver stops. Lewis issues him a warning and sends him on his way. The driver says nothing. “He didn't call me a racist," Lewis says, pulling into traffic, “but I know what he was thinking." Lewis does not think of himself as a racist. “I know how to treat people," he says. “I've never had a complaint based on a race-based stop. I’ve got that supercharged knowledge of the Constitution that allows me to do this right." In the old days, when he was patrolling the Eastern Shore, it was white people he arrested. “Ninety—five percent of my drug arrests were dirt—ball—type whites— marijuana, heroin, possession—weight. Then I moved to the highway, I start taking off two, three kilograms of coke, instead oftwo or three grams. Black guys. Suddenly I'm not the greatest trooper in the world. I'm a racist. l‘m locking tip blacks, butl can’t help it." His eyes gleam: “Ask me how many white people I‘ve ever arrested for cocaine smugglingfiask me!" I ask. “None! Zero! l debriefhundreds ofblack smugglers, and 1 ask them, ‘Why don't you hire white guys to deliver your drugs?’ They just laugh at me. ‘We ain’t gonna trust our drugs with white boys.‘ That's what they say.” Mike Lewis's dream: “I dream at night about arresting white people for cocaine. 1 do. I try to think of innovative ways to arrest white males. But the reality is different.” CHAPTER 14 A big 1 Hill three yr He approat marijuana. thousands t flashed thrt runner ont Theyl Lewis's gun ‘Man, it’s ju He couldn't his car. Hill drew his wr Lewis lects for me pass two rr They've sto “What’s up! The t\ text. The gt and untaxe pected gun fic laws. Bronr who is whit sonable su: to justify a 1 HOW( “They me his lice] Lewis fresheners long hours endorsed ii sniffing do; don’t want day—old be: cate the pn Did yr “Tell j cars. TheyV After ner, Rob Pt Plank,” he s in Georgia, . _ _ :ial profiling s cocaine or Gov. Chris— ilice depart- ady accused are black. pe and mis- ca. The sys— adou Diallo, his year, and .1 blacks and cked-up and er happened are so wildly hen I’m look- .te amount of fly stop. him. A young lood races up t! But I’m not This is ridicu- 1 warning and t I know what v how to treat p. I’ve got that 3 right." ; white people type whites— , I start taking uys. Suddenly 3 blacks, but I ed for cocaine 2m, ‘Why don’t Ve ain’t gonna lie for cocaine. ty is different.” CHAPTER 14 ° The Color of Suspicion A big part of Lewis’s reality is a black man named Keith Hill. Lewis killed Keith Hill three years ago. Hill was speeding down Route 13 when Lewis pulled him over. He approached the car, Hill rolled down the window and Lewis smelled burning marijuana. He ordered Hill out of the car, began to search him and came up with thousands of dollars of cash and packets of marijuana. Hill suddenly resisted. What flashed through Lewis’s mind was his friend Edward Plank, a trooper killed by a coke runner on this same highway a few months before. They fought, Hill knocking Lewis into a ravine. They wrestled, and Hill went for Lewis's gun. “We were in a clinch, just breathing heavy," Lewis recalls, “and I said, ‘Man, it's just pot, it’s not worth it.’ " But Hill kept going for the gun, Lewis tells me. He couldn’t get it, and ran. He looped through a housing development and back to his car. Hill gunned the engine just as Lewis got himself in front of the car. Lewis drew his weapon and fired, striking Hill twice in the chest. Lewis speaks often of the shooting, and of Eddie Plank’s death. One day, he col- lects for me old newspaper stories of trooper shootouts. I’m reading them when we pass two members of his interdiction squad parked on the median of Route 13. They’ve stopped two cars with New York license plates filled with young black men. “What’s up?” Lewis asks Gary Bromwell, a bulky, sullen trooper. The two cars were pulled over for speeding and weaving, but that was a pre- text. The goal of Lewis’s unit, the criminal—interdiction unit, is to find drugs, guns and untaxed cigarettes in the cars of smugglers. However, in order to stop a sus- pected gunrunner or drug mule, troopers first have to find a reason in the state’s traf— fic laws. Bromwell issues written warnings and sends them on their way. I ask Bromwell, who is white, why he didn’t ask the young men their consent to search the cars. Rea— sonable suspicion~anything the trooper can articulate before a judge—is enough to justify a consent search. “They're decent people," Bromwell says. How can you tell? “Theylooked me in the eye, and the driver's hand didn’t shake when he handed me his license—." Lewis interrupts: “No visible sign of contraband, no overwhelming odor of air fresheners emanating from the vehicle, no signs of hard driving"—that is, driving long hours without making stops. He is listing Drug Enforcement Administration— endorsed indicators of drug smuggling. Smugglers use air fresheners to fool drug— sniffing dogs. Signs of hard driving—“these guys drive straight through because they don't want to leave their drugs alone,” Lewis saysflinclude loose-fitting clothing, day-old beards and food wrappers on the floor. These signs, though, can also indi- cate the presence of college students—which is, in fact, the case here. Did you stop them because they were black men from NewYork? I ask. “Tell you the truth," Bromwell says, “we couldn't see who was driving these cars. They were speeding." After the New York cars pull into traffic, Lewis shows Bromwell and his part— ner, Rob Penny, the newspaper clippings, hoping they will back him up. “Eddie Plank,” he says. “Killed by a black male. My shooting——a black. Robbie Bishop, down inGeorgia, killed by a black. North Carolina trooper, killed by a black.” 143 ——_ 144 PART FOUR - Racism Bromwell looks uneasy. 1 ask him if he believes in a connection between the race of the shooters and the crimes they commit. “People might think it," Bromwell says, walking away, “but they don't say it.” He flashes Lewis a look that says, Shut up, and quick. WHY A COP PROFILES This is what a cop might tell you in a moment of reckless candor: in crime fighting, race matters. When asked, most cops will declare themselves color blind. But watch them on the job for several months, and get them talking about the way policing is really done, and the truth will emerge, the truth being that cops, white and black, profile. Here’s why, they say. African-Americans commit a disproportionate per- centage of the types of crimes that draw the attention of the police. Blacks make up 12 percent ofthe population, but accounted for 58 percent ofall carjackers between 1992 and 1996. (Whites accounted for 19 percent.) Victim surveysiand most vic— tims of black criminals are black—indicate that blacks commit almost 50 percent of all robberies. Blacks and Hispanics are widely believed to be the bluecollar back- bone of the country’s heroin— and cocaine—distribution networks. Black males be— tween the ages of 14 and 24 make up 1.1 percent of the country's population, yet commit more than 28 percent ofits homicides. Reason, not racism, cops say. directs their attention. Cops, white and black, know one other thing: they’re not the only ones who profile. Civilians profile all the time—when they buy a house, or pick a school dis— trict, or walk down the street. Even civil rights leaders profile. “There is nothing more painful for me at this stage in my life," Jesse Jackson said several years ago, “than to walk down the street and hear footsteps and start thinking about robbery—and then look around and see somebody white and feel relieved." Jackson now says his quotation was “taken out ofcontext." The context, he said, is that violence is the in— evitable by—product of poor education and health care. But no amount of “context” matters when you fear that you are about to be mugged. At a closed—door summit in Washington between police chiefs and black com- munity leaders recently, the black chief ofpolice ofCharleston, Reuben Green— berg, argued that the problem facing black America is not racial profiling, but precisely the sort of black—on—black crime Jackson was talking about. “I told them that the greatest problem in the black community is the tolerance for high levels of criminality," he recalled. “Fifty percent of homicide victims are African-Americans. I asked what this meant about the value of life in this community." The police chief in Los Angeles, Bernard Parks, who is black, argues that racial profiling is rooted in statistical reality, not racism. “It's not the fault of the police when they stop minority males or put them in jail," Parks told me. “It's the fault of the minority males for committing the crime. In my mind it is not a great revelation that if officers are looking for criminal activity, they're going to look at the kind of people who are listed on crime reports." CHAPTER 1 Chief race when “We 1 “The predt blacks or ( commit th waiting an follow ther What “We're not won't happ I aske state police ported that ofevery 10 out of 10?” story." He ( delivered h This isn't b PROFILI “Some blat mean, you blackmale in it. I start seem right He is let them or “I’m g Guilty “Racit His p; Real good.’ We at borhood o merce is liv traffic. it's a focused on side a spot The 0 scene unfc pants; the V n between the y don’t say it." :rime fighting, nd. But watch vay policing is ite and black, )rtionate per— lacks make up :kers between and most vic- )st 50 percent escollar back- ack males be- )pulation, yet ps say, directs nly ones who :a school dis— nothing more i ago, “than to obbery~and I now says his ance is the in— tt of“context" 1d black com- 3uben Green— orofiling, but . “I told them high levels of n-Americans. tes that racial of the police 's the fault of at revelation it the kind of r: CHAPTER 14 ° The Colorof Suspicion Chief Parks defends vigorously the idea that police can legitimately factor in race when building a profile ofa criminal suspect. 1 “We have an issue of violent crime against jewelry salespeople," Parks says. “The predominant suspects are Colombians. We don’t find Mexican-Americans, or . blacks or other immigrants. It's a collection of several hundred Colombians who commit this crime. if you see six in a car in front of the Jewelry Mart, and they're waiting and watching people with briefcases, should we play the percentages and i follow them? It's common sense." What ifyou follow the wrong Colombian, or track an Ecuadorean by mistake? “We're not using just race," he says. “It's got to be race, plus other indicators, so that won’t happen." I asked Parks to comment on the 3-out—of-10 hypothetical. In Maryland, the state police, as part ofa settlement of an American Civil Liberties Union lawsuit, re- ported that on a particular stretch ofhighway, the police came up with drugs in 3 out I ofevery 10 consent searches. This was deemed unacceptable by the A.C.L.U. “Three I out of 10?” Parks said. “That would get you into the Hall of Fame. That's a success , story." He continued: “At some point, someone figured out that the drugs are being delivered by males of this color driving these kinds of vehicles at this time of night. This isn't brain surgery. The profile didn't get invented for nothing." PROFILING IN BLACK AND WHITE “Some blacks, 1 just get the sense offthem that they‘re wild," Mark Robinson says. “I _ mean, you can tell. l have what you might call a profile. I pull up alongside a car with black males in it. Something doesn't matchfimaybe the style ofthe car with the guys in it. I start talking to them, you know, ‘nice car,’ that kind ofthing, and if it doesn't seem right, I say, ‘All right, let’s pull it over to the side,’ and we go from there." He is quiet and self—critical, and the words sat in his mouth a while before he let them out. “I'm guilty of it, I guess.” Guilty of what? “Racial profiling." His partner, Gene Jones, says: “Mark is good at finding stolen cars on the street. Real good." We are driving late one sticky Saturday night through the beat—down neigh— borhood of Logan, in the northern reaches of Philadelphia. The nighttime corn— merce is lively, lookouts holding down their corners, sellers ready to serve the addict traffic. It’s a smorgasbord for the two plainclothes officers, but their attention is soon focused on a single cluster of people. four presumptive buyers who are hurrying in— side a spot the officers know is hot with drugs. The officers pull to the curb, slide out and duck behind a corner, watching the scene unfold. The suspects are wearing backward baseball caps and low—slung pants; the woman with them is dressed like a stripper. 145 146 PAR T FO U R ' Racism “Is this racial profiling?" Jones asks. /’\ cynical half—smile shows on his face. The four buyers are white, Jones and Robinson are black, veterans of the street who know that white people in a black neighborhood will be stopped. Automatically. Faster than a Rastafarian in Scarsdale. “No reason for them to be around here at this time of night, nope,” Jones says. Is it possible that they're visiting college friends? 1 ask. Jones and Robinson, whose intuition is informed by experience, don't know quite what to make of tny suggestion. “It could be," Jones says, indttlgently. “But, uhhhh, no way." Are you going to stop them? “1 don’t know what for yet, but i'm going to stop them." The whites step out of the building. separate and dissolve into the night be— fore Jones gets to make his stop. Jones is unhappy; he‘s proud of his tracking skills. “They're hard to see in the dark, l guess." he says, smiling. 50, race is a legitimate proxy for criminality? “No,” Jones says. Few cops ever answer yes at the outset. “But it depends. I mean, you’re a cop. You know who‘s committing the crimes. It's your neighborhood. That’s how it works." Jones and Robinson are assigned to Philadelphia's 35th Police District, one of the more drug—ridden districts in a drug—ridden city, (jertain sections of Philadelphia are still very much lawless. Last year, the city hired John'l‘imoney, who served as first deputy commissioner under William Bratton in New York (Zity, to revive a police de- partment that had become tragically inept. 'l‘imoney, by all accounts, has done a re— markable job reforming the department, and letting the criminal underclass know that their actions will bring consequences. But Philadelphia is not quite Rudolph Giuliani‘s New York. Jones and Robin— son are surprised to hear, for instance, that the smoking of marijuana in public places is actively discouraged by New York police. 'l'hey express this surprise after they try to clear a drug corner of young men who continue smoking fat blunts even after Robinson and Jones alert them to the fact that they are in the presence oflaw- enforcement officers. ...
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