Published on Tuesday, July 11, 2000 by the Associated Press
Whitman Critics Vow To Protest Over Camden Pat-Down Photo
by John P. McAlpin
TRENTON, NEW JERSEY - Critics called Gov. Whitman's search of an unarmed Camden man in 1996 everything from insensitive to illegal and promised protests when she returns to Camden for the Republican National Convention's opening ceremonies this month.
"She's just stepped in a mess," Camden City Councilman Ali Sloan El said yesterday.
"A convention is coming up. I think she didn't want any scuttlebutt with the residents here," he said. "If it's an issue - and this is now an issue - we'll put it on our list, and we'll meet her at the waterfront."
The search came during a city tour that Whitman took with state police officers. Troopers offered her the opportunity to search the man, and she agreed. He had been searched at least once before by officers.
A photograph made by an unidentified law enforcement officer shows Whitman standing behind a black man, his arms spread, palms pressed up against a wall. The governor is wearing jeans, a sweatshirt, a baseball cap, and black gloves. In the picture, Whitman appears to be smiling.
State Sen. Wayne Bryant (D., Camden) said that of all that was wrong with the picture, the smile might be the most offensive.
Police searches are serious business and should not be taken lightly, Bryant said. They should also not be photo opportunities, he added.
"No citizen should be humiliated," he said. "That's humiliation to have a second search. There is no legitimate explanation to pat down a citizen, deprive him of his rights again for a photo op."
Whitman's eagerness to participate as a police officer shows a "cowboy" mentality and "a lack of caring," Bryant said. But many in Camden's minority community subjected to race-based searches have come to expect such behavior, he said.
"It sends that signal. That is what young African Americans think: 'Here we go again.' When it's the governor, it almost sends the signal that it's all right," Bryant said.
The Rev. Al Sharpton, whose protest over racial profiling shut down the Atlantic City Expressway last year, said he will meet Thursday with members of the Black Ministers Council of New Jersey to plan a new round of demonstrations.
"I don't think it needs any more explanation why it took her so long to understand the outrage over racial profiling," in which the state police acknowledged that some troopers were stopping motorists because of the color of their skin, Sharpton said. "She herself engaged in it.
"You're not talking about speculation. You're not talking about interpretations. Here you clearly have a governor engaged in this and caught in the act."
The search was illegal and demonstrates just how little police officers respect individual rights, said Deborah Jacobs, executive director of the New Jersey American Civil Liberties Union.
"They're so accustomed to having this kind of power that it seems insignificant and unimportant that this person's civil rights were violated," she said.
On Friday, Whitman said she was not sure if there was anything wrong with searching a man who was never charged with a crime. She also said she did not know if she had the legal authority to search someone.
"It never occurred to me to ask that question," she said.
State Attorney General John J. Farmer was not available yesterday and would have no comment, a spokesman said.
The photograph has been subpoenaed by several black and Latino state police officers who say they were subjected to discrimination by their superiors. Bill Buckman, the attorney for a trooper in the case, said it was clear that Whitman had no legal standing to search the man.
Law enforcement officers need a reasonable belief that a person is armed or that a crime has been committed before they can conduct a physical search, he said.
"By the time the governor comes along, we know this gentleman didn't fit that description," Buckman said. "The photograph and all its implications bespeaks a lack of sensitivity by the state police, by the governor, to human rights and to human dignity."