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.

Gregory KaneOp Edsop-edOpinion

Just Posted

San Francisco Giants manager Gabe Kapler, pictured in July at Oracle Park, says team members simultaneously can be “measured and calm” and “looking to push the accelerator.” (Chris Victorio/Special to The Examiner)
How Gabe Kapler sets the tone for Giants’ success with strategy, mindset

‘There’s no doubt in my mind that he’s the hands-down manager of the year’

Artist Agnieszka Pilat, pictured with Spot the Robot Dog from Boston Robotics, has a gallery show opening at Modernism. (Courtesy Agnieszka Pilat)
Screenshots of VCs, Kanye and tech parties by the Bay

In this week’s roundup, Ben Horowitz’s surprising hip-hop knowledge and the chic tech crowd at Shack15

Speaker of the Parliament of Mongolia Gombojav Zandanshatar said his country and San Francisco face similar challenges on issues including COVID recovery and climate change.<ins> (Kevin N. Hume/The Examiner)</ins>
Mongolian leaders meet with tech, film leaders on city tour

‘I really want San Franciscans to meet the new Mongolian generation’

If he secured a full term in the Senate, Newsom would become the most powerful Californian Democrat since Phil Burton at the height of his career, or maybe ever. <ins>(Kevin Hume/The Examiner)</ins>
Firefighters extinguish burning material near Lake Tahoe on Sept. 3 in the wake of the Caldor Fire; environmental scientists say the huge fire is bringing to light deficiencies in forest management. <ins>(Max Whittaker/New York Times)</ins>
Cal Fire, timber industry must face an inconvenient truth

We are logging further into the wildfire and climate crisis

Most Read