Gregory Kane: An amazing true story of racial profiling and the 14th amendment

Friday was Constitution Day. It was also the day that Joseph Collum's new book “The Black Dragon: Racial Profiling Exposed,” was published. That suits Collum just fine.

 

Collum is very big on the 14th Amendment, and he's downright leery about proposals that involve fiddling with it, overhauling it, repealing it or even tinkering with it on a minor scale.

Collum believes it was the 14th Amendment that led a New Jersey judge — a conservative one, no less — to rule, back in the late 1990s, that New Jersey State Police did routinely racially profile black and Latino drivers on the New Jersey Turnpike.

A little more about Collum: He was a reporter for television station WWOR in northern Jersey when he learned that there was something rotten was afoot on “The Black Dragon,” the nickname some New Jersey state troopers use for the NJT.

Collum and other reporters did some digging, gathered some statistics and learned that troopers in the Garden State were actually targeting black and Latino drivers in order to stop them and search their vehicles for drugs.

Collum decided to write a book about the experience. He began his journalism career in newspapers, and his superb writing style is showcased in “The Black Dragon.” The book is so riveting, so well-written, that we newspaper folks will probably forgive Collum for being seduced by the dark side of the force and working in TV journalism.

What Collum does in his book is use very short chapters to tell compelling anecdotes with cliffhanger endings that leave the reader hooked. Then he moves on to yet another anecdote, even more compelling and suspenseful, with yet another cliffhanger ending.

The result is a work that should come with a warning label: Don't read it unless you have absolutely nothing else to do. Once you start, you won't want to stop.

A little full disclosure here: I got an e-mail from Collum early last month that had a preview copy of his book attached. In it, Collum identified himself as the TV reporter who broke the story about racial profiling on the NJT.

I decided to give Collum's book a read, even though, I must say, in the past I'd been leery of charges of racial profiling on the NJT. For a three-year period from 1999-2002, I must have “ridden the dragon” between 100 and 200 times. There were days when my speedometer went well above the 85 mph mark. I wasn't stopped once.

 

It turns out I was the right color, but the wrong age and driving the wrong car. Beat-up Buicks and lowly Honda Civics weren't what New Jersey state troopers were looking for. But young black or Latino men driving expensive cars or rented vehicles were stopped way out of proportion to other drivers.

So yes, Virginia, there was racial profiling on “The Black Dragon.” Collum said that lawyers concerned about the practice tried arguing that it violated the Fourth Amendment at first, but got nowhere. But once they presented data showing that cops were stopping blacks at a rate 4.85 to that of whites, that good old “equal protection” clause of the 14th Amendment kicked in.

And I got one heck of a kick out of reading “The Black Dragon.” How good is it? If “24” were still on the air and I had a choice between reading “The Black Dragon” and watching “24,” the book would win out. OK, so I'd read the book and RECORD “24,” but you get the idea.

Collum's work is one fine book, and the 14th is one amazing amendment.

 

Examiner Columnist Gregory Kane is a Pulitzer-nominated news and opinion journalist who has covered people and politics from Baltimore to the Sudan.

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