Photo of N.J. Governor Draws Fire

Tuesday, July 11th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

TRENTON, N.J. (AP) — A 1996 photograph of Gov. Christie Whitman frisking a black man during a drug sweep has sparked outrage from critics who say it is another example of racial profiling.

Whitman has maintained her pat-down of the unidentified man while accompanying State Police on a tour of Camden, the state's poorest city, was an attempt to understand the rigors of police work. Troopers had searched the man at least once during the sweep before offering him to the governor.

A photograph obtained by The Associated Press shows Whitman, who appears to be smiling, standing behind a black man with his arms spread and his palms pressed up against a wall.

The photograph, taken by an officer, was subpoenaed in May by several black and Hispanic troopers who claim their superiors subjected them to discrimination.

Critics promised protests when Whitman returns to Camden later this month for the opening ceremonies of the Republican National Convention, which will take place in nearby Philadelphia.

``She's just stepped in a mess,'' Camden City Councilman Ali Sloan-El said Monday.

The search was illegal and a violation of the man's civil rights, said Deborah Jacobs, executive director of the New Jersey American Civil Liberties Union.

In an interview Friday, Whitman said she didn't know if she had any legal authority to conduct a search and she did not ask the officers present if she was allowed to do so.

``It never occurred to me to ask that question,'' said Whitman, who has not spoken publicly on the matter since then.

Whitman also rejected any claim that the picture portrays her or the State Police as biased. ``It was what it was. It had absolutely nothing to do with racial profiling.''

The racial profiling debate in New Jersey heated up in April 1998, when two troopers shot at a van they had pulled over on the New Jersey Turnpike. Four black and Hispanic men were inside, and three were wounded. The troopers were indicted on attempted murder charges.

The Rev. Al Sharpton, who organized a protest against racial profiling that shut down the Atlantic City Expressway last July, 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. She herself engaged in it,'' Sharpton said.