Category Archives: Racial Equality

The Hunted and the Hated: An Inside Look at the NYPD’s Stop-and-Frisk Policy

An exclusive audio recording obtained by The Nation of a stop-and-frisk carried out by the New York City Police Department reveals the humiliation and degradation caused by broken windows policing strategies which are being implemented in urban areas throughout America.

The day after The Nation published this video, it sparked a heated debate during a meeting of the City Council’s public safety committee. Since then, the New York Police Department’s stop, question and frisk tactic gained national notoriety and became a major factor in the city’s 2013 mayoral race. Footage and audio from this video were incorporated into a PSA video by the artist Yasiin Bey, and, perhaps most significantly, and the video was mentioned in the August 2013 decision of the landmark federal case Floyd v. City of New York, which found stop and frisk to be unconstitutional and racially discriminatory.

On June 3, 2011, three plainclothes New York City Police officers stopped a Harlem teenager named Alvin and two of the officers questioned and frisked him while the third remained in their unmarked car. Alvin secretly captured the interaction on his cell phone, and the resulting audio is one of the only known recordings of stop-and-frisk in action.

In the course of the two-minute recording, the officers give no legally valid reason for the stop, use racially charged language and threatened Alvin with violence. Early in the stop, one of the officers asks, “You want me to smack you?” When Alvin asks why he is being threatened with arrest, the other officer responds, “For being a fucking mutt.”

Later in the stop, while holding Alvin’s arm behind his back, the first officer says, “Dude, I’m gonna break your fuckin’ arm, then I’m gonna punch you in the fuckin’ face.”

“He grabbed me by my bookbag and he started pushing me down. So I’m going backwards like down the hill and he just kept pushing me, pushing me, it looked like he we was going to hit me,” Alvin recounts. “I felt like they was trying to make me resist or fight back.”

Alvin’s treatment at the hands of the officers may be disturbing but it is not uncommon. According to their own stop-and-frisk data, the NYPD stops more than 1,800 New Yorkers a day. A New York Times analysis recently determined that more than 20 percent of those stops involve the use of force. And these are only the numbers that the Department records.  Anecdotal evidence suggests both figures are much higher.

In this video, exclusive to, Alvin describes his experience of the stop, and working NYPD officers come forward to explain the damage stop-and-frisk has done to their profession and their relationship to the communities they serve. The emphasis on racking up stops has also hindered what many officers consider to be the real work they should be doing on the streets. The video sheds unprecedented light on a practice, cheered on by Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Police Commissioner Ray Kelly, that has put the city’s young people of color in the department’s crosshairs.

Those who haven’t experienced the policy first-hand “have likened Stops to being stuck in an elevator, or in traffic,” says Darius Charney, senior staff attorney at the Center for Constitutional Rights. “This is not merely an inconvenience, as the Department likes to describe it. This is men with guns surrounding you in the street late at night when you’re by yourself. You ask why and they curse you out and rough you up.”

“The tape brings to light what so many New Yorkers have experienced in the shadows at the hands of the NYPD,” says Ben Jealous, President of the NAACP. “It is time for Mayor Bloomberg to come to grips with the scale of the damage his policies have inflicted on our children and their families. No child should have to grow up fearing both the cops and the robbers.”

“This audio confirms what we’ve been hearing from communities of color, again and again,” says Donna Lieberman, executive director of the NYCLU. “They are repeatedly subjected to abusive and disrespectful treatment at the hands of the NYPD. This explains why so many young people don’t trust the police and won’t help the police,” she adds. “It’s not good for law enforcement and not good for the individuals who face this harassment.”

The audio also betrays the seeming arbitrariness of stops and the failure of some police officers to fully comprehend or be able to articulate a clear motivation for carrying out a practice they’re asked to repeat on a regular basis.

And, according to Charney, the only thing the police officers do with clarity during this stop is announce its unconstitutionality.

“We’ve long been claiming that, under this department’s administration, if you’re a young black or Latino kid, walking the street at night you’re automatically a suspicious person,” says Charney, who is leading a class-action lawsuit challenging the NYPD’s stop-and-frisk practices. “The police deny those claims, when asked. ‘No, that’s not the reason we’re stopping them.’ But they’re actually admitting it here [on the audio recording]. The only reason they give is: ‘You were looking back at us…’ That does not rise to the level of reasonable suspicion, and there’s a clear racial animus when they call him a ‘mutt.’”

The audio was recently played at a meeting of The Morris Justice Project, a group of Bronx residents who have organized around the issue of stop-and-frisk and have been compiling data on people’s interactions with police. Jackie Robinson, mother of two boys, expected not to be surprised when told about the contents of the recording. “It’s stuff we’ve all heard before,” she said at the gathering. Yet Robinson visibly shuddered at one of the audio’s most violent passages. She had heard plenty about these encounters, but had never actually listened to one in action.

“As a mother, it bothers you,” says Robinson. “The police are the ones we’re supposed to turn to when something bad happens. Of all the things I have to worry about when my kids walk out the door, I don’t want to have to worry about them being harmed by the police. It makes you feel like you can’t protect your children. Something has to be done.”

Officers who carry out such belligerent stops face little accountability under the NYPD’s current structure. The department is one of New York City’s last agencies to operate without independent oversight, leaving officers with no safe place to file complaints about police practice and systemic problems.

“An independent inspector general would be in a position to review NYPD policies and practices—like the recorded stop-and-frisk shown here—to see whether the police are violating New Yorkers’ rights and whether the program is in fact yielding benefits,” says the Brennan Center’s Faiza Patel. “An inspector general would not hinder the NYPD’s ability to fight crime, but would help build a stronger, more effective force.”

NYPD spokespeople have said that stop-and-frisk is necessary to keep crime down and guns off the street. But those assertions are increasingly being contradicted by the department’s own officers, who are beginning to speak out about a pervasive culture of number-chasing.

Two officers from two different precincts in two separate boroughs spoke toThe Nation about the same types of pressures put on officers to meet numerical goals or face disciplinary action and retaliation. Most chillingly, both officers use the word “hunt” when describing the relentless quest for summonses, stops and arrests.

“The civilian population, they’re being hunted by us,” says an officer with more than ten years on the job. “Instead of being protected by us, they’re being hunted and we’re being hated.”

The focus on numbers, and the rewards for those who meet quotas has created an atmosphere, another veteran officer says, in which cops compete to see who can get the highest numbers, and it can lead to the kind of arbitrary stop that quickly became violent in this recording.

“It’s really bad,” says the officer after listening to the audio recording. “It’s not a good thing at all. But it’s really common, I’m sorry to say. It doesn’t have to be like that.”

Lieberman from the NYCLU agrees: “It’s time for the Mayor and the Police Commissioner to stop trying to scare New Yorkers into accepting this kind of abuse, and to recognize that there is a problem.”

Additional reporting by Erin Schneider. To see this and other related media, go to: or e-mail stopandfriskmedia at gmail dot com


The Target: Stop-and-Frisk’s Damaging Toll on Families and Communities

On August 12, a federal judge ruled the New York Police Department’s policy of “stop, question and frisk” unconstitutional and racially discriminatory. In her decision in the case of Floyd v. City of New York, Judge Shira A. Scheindlin validated many of the complaints coming from civil rights organizations, grassroots groups and politicians who have rallied against the policy and its destructive effects on low-income communities of color.

But more than a year before opening arguments began in the Floyd lawsuit, New York City Council members and community advocates were discussing their own policy ideas to address years of corruption in the department.

The result was two pieces of legislation, collectively known as the Community Safety Act, that the City Council began debating last year seeking to curb a range of abuses and address other NYPD policy problems before they escalate to the point of federal intervention.

The first piece would establish an independent inspector general to investigate and review police policy and practice and make non-binding recommendations to the mayor and police commissioner. The second would expand the categories of individuals protected from profiling and make enforceable an anti-profiling law that is already on the books.

Though the federal monitor imposed by Judge Scheindlin’s decision will seek to fix how the NYPD currently employs stop-and-frisk, it is these bills, councilmembers believe, that could have more impact on the long-term health of the department, and make it more accountable to the public.

The City Council voted on the two bills in June. And despite receiving the full endorsement of only one of the top New York City mayoral candidates (Bill de Blasio), and being denounced by Mayor Michael Bloomberg as “dangerous and irresponsible,” the council passed the bills by wide margins.

Their passage into law, however, is by no means assured. Mayor Bloomberg vetoed the legislation in July. And he, along with the city’s largest police union, the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association, has announced his determination to sway the outcome of a veto override vote scheduled in the City Council this Thursday.

“This is a fight to defend your life and your kids’ lives. You can rest assured that I will not give up for one minute,” Bloomberg said at a June press conference.

Though the margin of the council’s June vote on the bills was wide enough to beat a veto, they could go down to defeat if the anti-profiling bill loses just one vote, or if the inspector-general bill loses eight. But if the current majorities hold, the bills will be signed into law, and it would be the second rebuke in as many weeks of the policing tactics of an administration that prides itself on its crime-fighting prowess.

Despite the life-and-death rhetoric from the mayor, it is these personal stakes that the bills’ backers see as the main reason for the mayor’s increasingly acerbic public comments and outright misinformation on the subject in recent weeks.

“He’s afraid of someone saying ‘not everything you did in policing worked,’” says Councilmember Jumaane Williams, a co-sponsor of the legislation. “A real leader can say, ‘Look, we tried a couple things. They didn’t all work out. And the ones that didn’t work out we tried to fix and work with the community on how to fix it.’ But he just didn’t do that, which caused us to be where we are now.”

Indeed, at a post-verdict press conference last week, the mayor became angry and agitated when asked about the pending legislation. The mayor’s message is clear: any extra departmental oversight will prohibit officers from doing their jobs and innocent civilians and officers will die.

“It’s disappointing the amount of fear-mongering that I’ve seen among the mayor and [Police Commissioner Ray Kelly],” says Williams. “ ’The sky is going to fall. Everything bad is going to happen.’ What they’re saying is that we have to profile in order to continue to do police work, and that’s just not acceptable. Otherwise, why are you worried about a profiling bill that just says you can’t profile?”

Though the anti-profiling bill is most vulnerable to the veto, it’s the one seen as most important by many lawyers because of the allowance that civilians can bring claims of profiling before a state court, and a judge can order binding remedies. It is also the one being most misrepresented by opponents.

A PBA delegate reached by The Nation, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak on behalf of the union, said that though he is against profiling, he’s also against the anti-profiling bill because he believes it would penalize individual officers.

Yet according to the bill’s language, officers will not be liable for monetary damages or subject to punishment by the judge.

For his part, Mayor Bloomberg has erroneously stated that the bill would bar officers from using descriptions of age or race when identifying a suspect.

“His staff had to tell him to stop saying that, because it isn’t true,” says Councilmember Brad Lander, a co-sponsor of the legislation. “It’s one thing for the New York Post, or the PBA to be saying this, but the mayor?”

The profiling bill is also one that gives hope to people who’ve been stopped and frisked wrongfully and regularly, like Keeshan Harley, an 18-year-old from Brooklyn who says he’s been stopped by the NYPD nearly 150 times.

“If they stop me without proper cause or without fair reasoning, if it’s just because I’m a young black male in Brooklyn, that’s the reason they stop me, then I have the right to bring them to court,” says the teen.

The fact that the mayor and the commissioner are not even open to a dialogue on the subject or attentive to citizens like Harley has frustrated Lander, who says the two have shown contempt for the City Council for merely doing its job of representing constituents’ concerns.

“And not only has the mayor been dismissive of the council, he’s shown a disregard for common sense,” exemplified, Lander said, when he madecomments on a recent radio talk show that whites (not blacks and Latinos) are the ones who are stopped too much.

Mayor Bloomberg also recently argued that the addition of an inspector general would result in too many layers of oversight. But according to Lander, “Inspectors general are present in every other major police department around the country and every federal law enforcement and intelligence agency. There is no example of an officer being confused about whose orders to follow.” The monitor will be focusing narrowly on stop-and-frisk, Lander said, while the inspector general would be “looking at the full array of programs and policies on the NYPD, including Muslim surveillance, quotas, statistics fixing, etc.”

“The history of law enforcement shows that a longer term legal framework for strong oversight and civil rights protection are what’s needed for effective and constitutional policing,” and that’s what these bills are intended to achieve, he says.

The big vote that will determine many upcoming issues revolving around the NYPD will come next month during the primaries for the next mayor—he or she will choose the next police commissioner, and decide whether to pursue Mayor Bloomberg’s appeal of the federal court’s decision in the Floyd case. And positions on public safety appear to be a priority for prospective voters, as the candidate who has distanced himself most from Mayor Bloomberg’s policies is now a serious contender to be the mayor’s successor: Public Advocate Bill de Blasio.

But in the meantime, this Thursday’s City Council vote on whether to override Bloomberg’s veto of the Community Safety Act bills is the one to watch, because the new mayor, whoever they may be, would be bound by this new legislation.


Happy 2016 from Camden Civil Rights Project!

¡ Feliz año nuevo ! (Spanish)

Bonne Année ! (French)

с новым годом (Written Russian)

s Novym godom ! (Spoken Russian)

Felice Anno Nuovo ! (Italian)

Frohes neues Jahr ! (German)

ευτυχισμένο το νέο έτος (Written Greek)

eftychisméno to néo étos ! (Spoken Greek)

שנה טובה (Hebrew)

mzl niu yar ! (Yiddish)

bhliain nua sásta ! (Irish)

blwyddyn Newydd Dda ! (Welsh)

新年快乐 (Traditional Chinese)

Xīnnián kuàilè ! (Chinese)

Gong Xi Fa Cai ! (Mandarin)

Gong Hey Fat Choy ! (Cantonese)

नया साल मुबारक  (Written Hindi)

naya saal mubaarak (Spoken Hindi)

明けましておめでとうございます(Written Japanese)

Akemashiteomedetōgozaimasu ! (Spoken Japanese)

새해 복 많이 받으세요 (Written Korean)

saehae bog manh-i bad-euseyo ! (Spoken Korean)

Chúc mừng năm mới ! (Vietnamese)

سنة جديدة سعيدة (Arabic)

sunnat jadidat saeida ! (Spoken Arabic)

(Persian) سال نو مبار

(Selamat Tahun Baru ! (Indonesian

(Maligayang Bagong Taon ! (Filipino

(šťastný nový rok ! (Czech

(щасливого Нового року (Written Ukranian

(shchaslyvoho Novoho roku ! (Spoken Ukranian

(з Новым годам (Written Belarusian

(z Novym hodam ! (Spoken Belarusian

(szczęśliwego (Written Polish

(Nowego Roku ! (Spoken Polish

šťastný nový rok ! (Slovak)
mutlu Yıllar ! (Turkish)
¡ Feliz Ano Novo ! (Portegese)
Srečno Novo Leto ! (Slovenian)
Sretna Nova Godina ! (Bosnian/Croation)
Srećna Nova godina (Serbian)
Gëzuar Vitin e Ri ! (Albanian)
an nou fericit ! (Romanian)
Честита Нова Година (Written Bulgarian)
Chestita Nova Godina ! (Spoken Bulgarian)
Gelukkig Nieuwjaar ! (Dutch)
godt nytt år ! (Norwegian)
Onnellista uutta vuotta ! (Finnish)
Gleðilegt nýtt ár ! (Icelandic)
շնորհավոր Նոր Տարի (Written Armenian)
shnorhavor Nor Tari ! (Spoken Armenian)
Laimingų Naujųjų metų (Lithuanian)
გილოცავ ახალ წელს (Written Georgian)
gilots’av akhal tsels (Spoken Georgian)
среќна Нова година (Written Macedonian)
sreḱna Nova godina (Spoken Macedonian)
laimīgu Jauno gadu ! (Latvian)
head uut aastat ! (Estonian)
Соли Нав Муборак (Written Tajik)
Soli Nav Muʙorak ! (Spoken Tajik)
Yangi yilingiz bilan (Uzbek)
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Śubha naba barṣa (Spoken Bengali)
สวัสดีปีใหม่ (Written Thai)
S̄wạs̄dī pī h̄ım̀ ! (Spoken Thai)
ສະ​ບາຍ​ດີ​ປີ​ໃຫມ່ (Written Lao)
Sa bai di pi haim ! (Spoken Lao)
selamat tahun Baru ! (Malay)
Kè Kontan Ane Nouvo ! (Haitian)
ਨਵਾ ਸਾਲ ਮੁਬਾਰਕ (Written Punjabi)
Navā sāla mubāraka ! (Spoken Punjabi)
pyawshwinhpwal nhaitsait ! (Burmese)
sanadka cusub ku faraxsan ! (Somali)
ezi afọ ọhụrụ ! (Igbo)
barka da sabon shekara ! (Hausa)
نیا سال مبارک ہو(Urdu)
Heri ya mwaka mpya ! (Swahili)
Wilujeng taun énggal ! (Sudanese)
e ku odun, eku iyedun ! (Yoruba)
Jabulela unyaka omusha ! (Zulu)
gelukkige Nuwe Jaar ! (Afrikaans)
zoo siab xyoo tshiab ! (Hmong)




How Can We Fix Unconscious Racism?

Racial prejudice has its roots in children’s natural drive to carve the world up into categories. Can research do anything to fix this?




multicoloured jelly babies
It’s easy to categorise people based on skin colour, because it’s such a salient visual feature. But how can we tackle racial bias? Photograph: Alamy

On the whole, stereotypes are often right – dogs do normally bark and wag their tails. The difficulty arises when this learning mechanism is applied to groups of people. Race is an easy mental category to fit people into because skin colour is a salient visual feature.

Babies are not born believing that any group is better than another but they do attend to race surprisingly early. From about 9-months, babies show a general preference for what is familiar: they are quicker to recognise faces and facial expressions of their own race than of other races.

If we don’t have the opportunity to interact with individuals of a different race then the information we have to inform a racial category has to come from other sources such as the media or people’s opinions. As these can be biased in positive or negative ways, the stereotypes we form can also be biased and inaccurate. Depending how insistent and consistent these secondary sources are, they might even overwhelm our own personal experience.

This effect is compounded by some other low-level, unconscious biases. There is a strong tendency to favour our own group over other groups. It doesn’t really matter how the group is specified: children remember more positive things about members of their in-group and more negative things about members of the out-group, even if group membership is specified by something as superficial and transient as t-shirt colour.


We (as a species) also have a tendency to think of members of the out-group as being all much the same while members of our in-group are all unique snowflakes. This enables us to create coherent categories and make predictions but can also lead to vastly inaccurate and damaging sweeping generalizations.

Young children are particularly sensitive to the use of generics in language to learn about the world as quickly as possible. If you say ‘birds have wings’ they will generalise this information to all expectations of birds in a way that they won’t if you say ‘this bird has wings’. Of course, the same is then true if they hear phrases like ‘Arabs are violent.’

Insidious Racism

So, it is an embarrassing and oft repeated finding that while the majority of people in Western countries these days are egalitarian believers in a fair meritocracy, on tests of unconscious racial bias about 70% show a preference for their own race. The classic test is the Implicit Association Test, which measures how quickly you are able to categorize photos of members of your own race with positive characteristics (wonderful, glorious) and members of a minority race with negative characteristics (horrible, nasty).

This conflict between people’s dearly held explicit beliefs and their nasty little unconscious racial biases is troubling and has real-world consequences. For example, presented with identical, moderately good resumes attached to a picture of a white or black candidate, interviewers are significantly more likely to shortlist the white candidate for interview. This study was originally conducted in 1989 but the results were exactly the same when it was repeated in 2005.

The Roots of Racism

Explicit (conscious) racial biases start at about 5-years of age but, where they are not supported, tend to peter out from about 10-12 years. This is likely because children become more aware of principles of fairness and social justice that shape how they believe people should be treated. (If racial stereotypes are supported by the people around them then all bets are off. On the whole, garbage in, garbage out.)

Implicit (unconscious) racial biases, however, can develop as young as 3 years of age. Once established in the preschool years they are surprisingly resilient to change. While explicit racial prejudice drops off in most children, implicit racial biases usually remain consistent through to adulthood.

Changing Unconscious Racism

I was particularly taken then with a paper in this month’s Developmental Science, which shows that a very simple intervention can disrupt young children’s unconscious racial biases. Xaio and colleagues at Zheijiang Normal University in China repeated a common measure of implicit racial bias: the ‘angry=outgroup’ test. Here photos of faces were morphed so that it was ambiguous whether they were Chinese or African. Each face was presented twice, once looking angry and once looking happy, and respondents asked to decide what race the face was.

As in previous tests, Chinese adults and children tended to say that the happy faces were Chinese and the angry faces were African. This is the same pattern as for white American children and adults who tend to say that happy faces are white and angry faces are black.

The researchers then introduced a very quick intervention. Four, 5- and 6-year-olds were asked to discriminate between 5 African faces and had to remember what number went with each face before they could proceed to the next step. This task forced children to focus on the individual differences between the faces.

When the angry=outgroup test was repeated, the bias had disappeared. Children were just as likely to say that the angry faces were Chinese as African. This simple intervention seems to have disrupted what was previously considered a very deep rooted and difficult to change bias.

The study raises a lot more questions than it answers. Why does it work? How long do the effects last for? How do changes in implicit biases interact with explicit beliefs and behaviour?

But I like it for two reasons. First, it gets to the root of the issue of racist generalisations by tinkering with simple perceptual categorization. If racial prejudice is just a value judgment laid on top of unconscious perceptual and grouping biases then this seems a sensible level to work at.

I also like its simplicity. Very similar effects have been shown with adults but used hundreds of repetitions during the intervention stage. Xiao’s intervention took no more than 15 minutes yet had significant short-term effects. Such a procedure could easily be adapted to a game or an app that, played regularly, might support longer-term change.

Being aware of implicit racial prejudice is important. We need to know it’s there to guard against it influencing our behaviour and we need to shape society to minimise its effects. For instance, racial information is now excluded from job applications and kept confidential so as not to influence decisions at the shortlisting stage.

But tackling implicit racial bias is important too. Vigilance can only take us so far when battling against unconscious demons. Would you like to see how you fare on the Implicit Association Test? Have a go here but don’t despair if, like 70% of the population, you show an unwanted preference for your own race. Being aware of these biases can make a difference and help may be just around the corner.


Equal Protection Under the Law

This episode of Crash Course in Government and Politics provides a general overview of the Fourteenth Amendment’s equal protection clause. Discussed is the concept that the law should be applied equally to everyone and what this means in terms of our civil rights. As opposed to civil liberties, or our protections from the government, civil rights differ in that they involve how some groups or individuals are permitted to treat other groups or individuals (usually minorities) under existing laws. The video explains the process the Supreme Court follows in racial, ethnic and religious discrimination cases, known as “strict scrutiny,” and examines one landmark case, Brown v Board of Education, and its role in kick-starting the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s.

Chicano! Fighting For Political Power

The 1960s was a turbulent decade in American history, fraught with political conflicts ranging from racial equality to the war in Vietnam. The Mexican American Civil Rights Movement, one of the least studied social movements of the 1960s, encompassed a broad cross section of issues—from restoration of land grants, to farm workers rights, to enhanced education, to voting and political rights. The video documentary Chicano! History of the Mexican American Civil Rights Movement, a four-part documentary series, corrects this oversight. Ground-breaking for the material it covers, the series is one of the few to address the history of Mexican Americans in general and that of the Chicano Movement in particular; it is an indispensable resource for scholars and students.

Part 4, “Fighting for Political Power,” discusses the creation of La Raza Unida Party as a third party force for Mexican-American political power which demanded social justice in the Latin American community. It culminates with the Raza Unida convention, the 1972 election and the fragmentation of the party at the height of its membership and recognition.

Japanese Internment during WW II

After America was attacked by Japan at Pearl Harbor, President Franklin Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9066 consigning 127,000 people of Japanese ancestry to internment camps. Fred Korematsu challenged the internment all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. In “Korematsu v. United States” (1944), the Court sided with the government.

In 1988, Congress passed and President Ronald Reagan signed legislation which apologized for the internment on behalf of the U.S. government. The legislation said that government actions were based on “race prejudice, war hysteria, and a failure of political leadership”. The U.S. government eventually disbursed more than $1.6 billion in reparations to Japanese Americans.

We Shall Remain: Wounded Knee

From the award-winning PBS series American Experience comes
We Shall Remain, a provocative look at the historical relationship between Native Americans and the United States government. In 1973, American Indian Movement activists and members of the Lakota Indian tribe residing on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota occupied the town of Wounded Knee, demanding the removal of a corrupt tribal council leader and a redress of past grievances. The 71 day stand-off between approximately 200 American Indians and the U.S. Government brought national attention to the institutional  assault against the cultural identity of American Indians and the poverty and corruption on Indian reservations. The courageous stand  by the activists led to a groundswell of public support allowing thousands of assimilated Indians across the country to reaffirm their cultural pride.

Who Is Black in America?

Black In America is a multi-part series of documentaries hosted by reporter Soledad O’Brien on CNN. The series focuses on black culture in America and includes panel discussions on issues facing the black community. The fifth installment in the series, Who is Black in America? focuses on how skin tone and mixed ancestry affect racial identity. This episode questions whether being black is determined by the color of your skin, society’s perception, the dominant culture of your family, or self-identification? Soledad O’Brien follows the story of 2 young Philadelphia poets as they explore their racial identity through workshops conducted by their mentor, Perry “Vision” Divirgilio of Philly Youth Poetry Movement.  Scholar Yaba Blay analyzes the influences skin color can have on racial identity and social opportunity.

American Experience: Klansville U.S.A.

Having been dormant for decades, the Ku Klux Klan reemerged in the U.S. after the 1954 Supreme Court Brown v. Board of Education decision, gaining momentum in the U.S. as the civil rights movement grew. That the Klan would rise once again wasn’t surprising, but where the reincarnation took place was. North Carolina was long considered the most progressive southern state; its image was being burnished weekly on CBS by the enormously popular “The Andy Griffith Show.” In 1963, North Carolina salesman Bob Jones chartered what would become the largest Klan group in the country, which, under his leadership, grew to some ten thousand members. In the process, the group helped give the Tarheel State a new nickname: “Klansville, U.S.A.”

Driving While Black


“Oh, God, help me! Oh, my God! Oh, no no no! Oh, God, help me! Help me, God! Help me, God! Please, God, save me! Oh, God! Oh, my God!”

Our instructors call him the Screamer. We are not told his name, which is just as well. That added bit of humanity would make his debasement all the more difficult to watch.

Judging from the enthusiasm of the California Highway Patrol officers who are training us, the Screamer promises to be a high point of sorts in our lessons. Several times during this morning’s classes, when the lectures have dragged, one or another of our uniformed instructors has called out from the back of the classroom, “Play the Screamer!” And so, eventually, they do.

As the video equipment is being readied, a sergeant briefs us on what we are about to see: a tape of an actual search made by an Operation Pipeline team in rural Arkansas. The tape will demonstrate several things, we are told, not the least of which is the effectiveness of the training we are receiving. We will see with our own eyes just how well Operation Pipeline works.

The television monitor flickers on and we see a smeary black-and-white shot of a gangly man in a checkered shirt. He is standing by a car, alongside some highway in the boondocks, trailer trucks roaring by. On the tape, it is the dead of winter, overcast and blustery, and the man keeps brushing long strands of hair from his eyes as he nervously answers questions from the two Arkansas state troopers towering over him. He is nobody, some jobless hillbilly plucked from the traffic stream by two cops who have been specially trained–like us–to spot suspicious characters.

The troopers give the man the once-over and tell him they want to search his car. He reluctantly agrees and is shoved into the backseat of their unoccupied prowl car, behind the dash-mounted video camera, and from then on, we watch through his eyes as the Pipeline team searches his car.

When the trunk lid pops open, the man begins to whimper. When one of the troopers reaches in and tosses a black plastic garbage bag onto the hood of the patrol car, he lets loose with a piercing off-camera shriek.

“Help me! Help me, God! Help me, God! Please, God, save me! Oh, God! Oh, my God!”

He keeps it up, alternating between wails and moans, for what seems like an eternity, gibbering at the visions he is conjuring of his near future. Just when he seems finished, when it seems certain his lungs can take no more, he starts up again, screaming even louder than before. “Oh, God, save me! Oh, sweet God, please! Please save me!”

“Now, look, look,” our instructor says excitedly, pointing at the screen. “The troopers are finally gonna hear him!”

As a gut-wrenching howl erupts from inside the patrol car, one of the cops looks up slowly from the Screamer’s trunk and gives the camera a puzzled glance. Comedy.

The classroom explodes with laughter.


CURTIS V. RODRIGUEZ IS A SAN JOSE LAWYER. He looks far younger than his forty years, has a couple kids, owns a house, drives a nice car. He’s a prime example of an emerging army in California: educated urban professionals who happen not to have white skin.

Last June, he and a friend, fellow attorney Arturo Hernandez, drove Rodriguez’s Mazda Millenia to Merced on a mundane legal task: taking pictures of a client’s house. On their way through the windy Pacheco Pass, in the mountain range separating the Pacific coast from the dusty farms of the San Joaquin Valley, they saw some cars that had been pulled over and were being searched by California Highway Patrol officers. In every instance, it seemed, the car’s driver was a dark-skinned male.

On the way back, hours later, they saw more. One after another, every couple of miles.

“After seeing the third car in a row–same deal, driver is a dark-skinned Latino and the cops have them standing off on the side of the road–Art and I looked at each other and said, ‘Do you believe this?’ ” Rodriguez says. “It was obvious whom they were stopping. It’s not like there are that many dark-skinned Latinos on the road, but that’s all they had. Art got the camera out and started taking pictures of the stops, because we figured no one would believe us.”

Hernandez began snapping away, getting photos of a fourth car whose dusky occupants were being questioned by the roadside. As the Millenia whizzed by the fifth such vehicle, a highway patrolman looked up and saw Hernandez with the Olympus. Soon, the Mazda’s rearview mirror was filled with the chrome grille of the trooper’s hard-charging Crown Victoria.

“I’m driving like a saint,” Rodriguez recalls. “I’m going under the speed limit, straight down the middle of the lane. There’s nothing he can do to me. But he turns on his lights and pulls me over. He walks up and tells me I was weaving, which is a total lie, because I was driving that car like it was on rails.”

The trooper then told Rodriguez he wanted to search the Mazda, and Rodriguez scoffed. To hell with that, he thought. I didn’t go to law school for nothing. No way, he told the officer, am I consenting to a search. I know my constitutional rights. Art and I are criminal lawyers. The Fourth Amendment protects us from this kind of nonsense. If you want to search the car, get a warrant. Otherwise, just give me a ticket and let me go.

The trooper was unmoved. He looked at the two attorneys calmly and ordered them out of the vehicle. I’m in fear for my life, he informed them in a monotone. The passenger made suspicious motions, which gives me the right to search your car–for my own safety. Rodriguez’s license and registration were taken back to the cruiser, where a drug dog sniffed at them indifferently. Not surprisingly, the search turned up nothing.

Rodriguez was dumbfounded. “The whole thing was about as illegal as you can get. He had no cause to pull me over. He had no reason to search my car. He knows I’m a lawyer, and he goes ahead and does it anyway! So the thing I’m wondering is, what happens to the people who aren’t lawyers?”

What sometimes happens is this: They get frisked, and sniffed by dogs, their luggage gets dumped out and pawed, on occasion their cars are towed away and dismantled back at the police station. Other times, their vehicles are taken apart on the spot. If they’re lucky, they are simply left standing alongside the road, frightened and mystified, holding an expensive traffic ticket they didn’t deserve and wondering why, out of all the cars on the highway, the police came after them.

In most cases, it can be summed up in two words: Operation Pipeline. Like tens of thousands of other innocent motorists, Curtis Rodriguez had been sucked up and spit out by one of the federal government’s more secretive antidrug campaigns, a giant vacuum cleaner of a program financed by the U. S. Drug Enforcement Administration and run by hundreds of state and local police agencies across the country. Over the past thirteen years, Operation Pipeline has been waging an expanding and largely invisible war on the nation’s highways against “mules,” people who haul cash and drugs for dope dealers. In its time, Pipeline has scored some impressive victories. But as with any war, it has left considerable collateral damage in its wake: legions of law-abiding motorists who have been ticketed, interrogated, and searched simply because they looked or acted funny–or happened not to be white.

“It isn’t just blacks and Hispanics, though they do seem to be the majority,” says Utah attorney W. Andrew McCullough. “In my experience, any motorist who looks different is a candidate for getting pulled over by these folks.”

Complaints of racially motivated traffic enforcement are nothing new, of course. But in the last couple of years, these complaints have become louder and more persistent. Some legal experts, such as constitutional-law professor David A. Harris of the University of Toledo, believe we are in the midst of a “national epidemic of race-based traffic enforcement.”

That perception has been strengthened by recent civil-rights suits filed in Maryland and New Jersey and statistical studies done in North Carolina and Florida proving that on some highways, the traffic laws have been enforced far more stringently against dark-skinned drivers. Because of these documented cases of roadside racism, Democratic congressman John Conyers of Michigan was able to persuade the Republicans in the House last year to pass a bill requiring traffic police to record the race of the drivers they stop so that the phenomenon could be studied nationwide, but the measure died in the Senate. Last September, the California legislature overwhelmingly passed a similar bill–sponsored by Senator Kevin Murray of Los Angeles, who himself had been subjected to a questionable search–only to see it vetoed by Governor Pete Wilson.

For the most part, police characterize these cases as isolated lapses in judgment by rogue officers or insensitive police commanders who’ve sent out the “wrong signal” to the troops. But what no one has seemed to notice so far is the thread that connects many of these seemingly unrelated cases: this unheralded federal program called Operation Pipeline.

I ended up inside Pipeline last summer as an investigator for the California Legislature after hearing stories from law-enforcement sources about special CHP units that were pulling Latino motorists off the interstates on a whim and rousting them in an effort to find guns, cash, and drugs. What was happening on California’s highways, I discovered, was happening across the country–methodically and with increasing frequency.

Operation Pipeline has helped give rise to a new catchphrase in the minority community: DWB, Driving While Black, or Driving While Brown. Yet few outside of law-enforcement circles have even heard of Operation Pipeline.

The DEA, Operation Pipeline’s federal sponsor, doesn’t talk about it much, which is odd, since the agency considers Pipeline to be “one of the nation’s most effective drug-interdiction programs.”

But with 301 police commands in forty-eight states now participating in Pipeline in some fashion–from the tiny Picayune Police Department in Mississippi to the New York State Police–the program is in danger of becoming a victim of its own excess. The problems have become so obvious to the CHP that the agency recently embarked on a major overhaul of its Pipeline program.

Two months before Curtis Rodriguez had his car tossed, a reporter had asked a veteran California Highway Patrol sergeant to explain the operating principle behind this campaign to remove contraband from highway travelers. The answer: volume, volume, volume.

“It’s sheer numbers,” he said. “Our guys make a lot of stops. You’ve got to kiss a lot of frogs before you find a prince.” California Highway Patrol canine units kissed nearly thirty-four thousand frogs in 1997. Only 2 percent of them were carrying drugs. In other states, up to 95 percent of all Pipeline searches have been found to be dry holes.

An Ohio trooper testified in a drug-seizure case a few years ago that he’d personally conducted 786 searches in a single year, sometimes for no other reason than to keep in practice. The state judge, James Brogan, was outraged.

“If we multiply this among all agencies and officers who are currently using routine traffic stops to search the vehicles of citizens they suspect of no crime, the number of individual citizens being asked to relinquish their privacy rights . . . is staggering,” Brogan wrote.

Within the past year, according to one DEA official, Attorney General Janet Reno and her top aides have begun asking questions about Pipeline, wondering why the program keeps spawning complaints from black and Hispanic motorists and lawsuits accusing the police of racism and selective enforcement.

Frankly, it’s not much of a mystery. The answer can be found in the muddy median strip of I-95, a four-lane concrete corridor that cuts through the desolate coastal swamps of Florida. It’s where Operation Pipeline arose and where it grew to become what it is today.


LIKE THE PHRENOLOGISTS OF THE NINETEENTH CENTURY, who believed that a person’s personality could be divined from the shape of his skull, Robert L. Vogel Jr. believes he can spot drug traffickers from the general cut of their jib.

“Bob has a God-given sixth sense,” Vogel’s dark-haired wife, Jeannie, says earnestly. “A lot of people are jealous of that or can’t understand it.”

Vogel discovered his unusual talent in the mid-1980s, while working as a Florida state trooper, cruising I-95 outside Daytona Beach and Port Orange, looking for traffic miscreants. Certain drivers, he noticed, just gave him a bad feeling inside. When he searched their cars, he would frequently find drugs or weapons.

A compact, soft-spoken Vietnam vet who bears a faint resemblance to Richard Gere, Bob Vogel is a deliberate, methodical man, serious about his job, so he began compiling his observations about the drivers who set off the alarm bells in his head. He discovered common traits among them and gathered these together into a list of “indicators,” which he began mentally checking off whenever he pulled someone over.

He broke down the indicators into two types: physical and behavioral. The physical indicators were the ones he could see as he scanned the interior of his quarry’s car. Such things as car phones and pagers, radar detectors and radio scanners, were obvious. But there were many others. Cops regard the indicators as something akin to a magician’s secrets. Our Pipeline instructor warned against disclosing them in court lest “the bad guys” find out. But in truth, records of them can be found in a good public library. Among the most common:

Air fresheners, especially the ones that look like leaves or little pine trees. Pipeline cops call them “the felony forest.” They can be used to mask the odor of drugs. Having fabric softener, coffee grounds, or laundry detergent lying around is also a sign something could be amiss.
Fast-food wrappers on the floor. Evidence of “hard travel”; suggests a desire not to leave the drug load, even to get a sit-down meal. Pillows and blankets in the car fall under this rubric as well.
Maps with cities circled on them. A circled “drug source” or “drug destination”–which covers just about all major cities–is more evidence of a motorist’s true nature.
Tools on the floor, for easy access to those hidden compartments full of drugs and money. Tinted windows, new tires on an older car, or high mileage on a new car are also worrisome signs.
A single key in the ignition. Most people, presumably, have lots of keys on their key chains. Solitary keys suggest someone just handed the driver a key.
Not enough luggage for a long trip or too much luggage for a short one. Rental cars are extremely suspicious, as is an auto-registration certificate in someone else’s name.
Vogel acknowledges that each of these indicators can be found in the cars of innocent citizens and, by itself, is no indication of criminal activity. But when they are found in combination, he insists, it means you’ve got a potential drug mule on your hands. Spotting them is nothing more than good, basic police work, he says, and, as shown by the thousands of drug seizures Pipeline units make every year, obviously he is right.

But it’s when you get to the next step–the behavioral indicators–that things get a bit trickier, that Vogel’s sixth sense comes into play. It’s also when good, basic police work can sometimes mutate into racism and stereotyping. In a deposition in 1997, Utah state trooper Paul Mangelson, one of the nation’s best-known Operation Pipeline instructors and a frequent consultant to other police agencies, offered an insight into how the behavioral indicators work: “The secret of criminal interdiction is being able to read people. And there are things about people and things they do that are a definite tip-off,” Mangelson explained. “I don’t necessarily teach this, but on a freeway, prior to stopping somebody, I like to pull up in the inside lane, traffic permitting, and observe the individual.”

“Now, when you pull up alongside of somebody and take a look at them,” Mangelson was asked, “would this be any joe motorist or somebody that has already attracted your attention?”

“Somebody that I’ve already decided I’m going to stop. I want to see his reaction as I pull up alongside of him. For example, will he make eye contact with me? And I maintain that if a guy is doing something illegal, ninety-nine times out of a hundred he won’t look at you. Number two, he knows good and well that you are there, and he is going to have a death grip on that steering wheel, and you can probably see that his knuckles are turning white. That’s a very good indicator that guy is dirty. Something is illegal in that car.”

Other indicators, he said, are adornments like “earrings, nose rings, eyelid rings. Those are things that are common denominators with people who are involved with crimes. Tattoos would go along with that,” particularly tattoos of “marijuana leaves.”

Bumper stickers also give him a feel for the soul of the driver. “Deadhead stickers are things that almost–the people in those kinds of vehicles are almost always associated with drugs.”

How about ACLU stickers? “Yeah, I look for them.”

“What about, for instance, Hispanics in an out-of-state vehicle?”

“A lot of Hispanics are transporting narcotics,” Mangelson said. “That’s common knowledge. I don’t think it matters whether they’re in an out-of-state vehicle or not.”

What if he saw pornography in the car? “I would certainly have a belief that drugs could be in the vehicle.”

Not surprisingly, such unorthodox crime-fighting techniques were not immediately embraced by the courts. In Florida, Bob Vogel was viewed as something of an oddball at first. Judges, he learned, were simply unwilling to make allowances for a cop with clairvoyance.

When the federal eleventh-circuit court of appeals got a look at Vogel’s police work, the judges denounced it as illegal, unconstitutional, and possibly un-American. You mean you pulled over someone because you thought he looked like a drug dealer? the judges gasped. What was your probable cause?

“That trooper Vogel’s ‘hunch’ about the appellants proved correct is perhaps a tribute to his policeman’s intuition, but it is not sufficient to justify, ex post facto, a seizure,” the judges wrote in a 1986 opinion. To condone Vogel’s methods, they wrote, would mean that every car on the road could be pulled over and searched, which “would run counter to our Constitution’s promise against unreasonable searches and seizures.”

Undeterred by the stinging judicial rebuke and the queasiness of some of his bosses, Vogel plowed ahead. “No one else was doing this but me, and there were some people who were nervous about it, but there always has to be someone to test the waters,” Vogel says quietly. “I’ve never been a quitter.”

He looked over the legal opinions and slightly changed his approach. Instead of pulling over a driver merely for looking suspicious, he would find other reasons to stop the shifty-looking ones. He found them by the hundreds in the thick volumes of the Florida vehicle code: rarely enforced laws against driving with burned-out license-plate lights, out-of-kilter headlights, obscured tags, and windshield cracks. State codes bulge with such niggling prohibitions, some dating from the days of the horseless carriage.

“The vehicle code gives me fifteen hundred reasons to pull you over,” one CHP officer told me.

For Vogel, it was the perfect solution to his problem. Since it’s nearly impossible for drivers to go ten feet without violating some obscure ordinance, Vogel would simply tag along and wait for it to happen. Then he would pounce. Nobody could complain about that; he was duly enforcing the traffic laws of the State of Florida. And with that one refinement, Operation Pipeline was up and running.

After Vogel pulled a car over, he would search it, and, sure enough, sometimes he would find drugs. Once in a while, he would find a lot of drugs. Newspaper reporters started writing stories about him, marveling at the way he was able to turn a routine traffic stop into a major drug bust.

Within a year of being publicly flayed by the highest federal appeals court in the Southeast, Bob Vogel was honored four times with law-enforcement awards. 60 Minutes sent down a camera crew and produced a flattering profile depicting a dedicated, hardworking policeman trying his best to fight the drug war. Vogel became a local hero. In 1988, he was elected sheriff of Volusia County, and one of his first official acts was to set up a special antidrug unit in his image: the oddly named Selective Enforcement Team, handpicked deputies who had Vogel’s training methods instilled by the master himself.

Vogel had his admirers in Washington as well. By 1987, the DEA had formally adopted his highway drug-interdiction system and begun funding a training program to preach Vogel’s gospel around the country. (Though Vogel did not invent the notion of using profiles to spot potential drug couriers, he pioneered their adaptation to highway travelers, and my CHP instructors credited him as Pipeline’s creator. Previous police use of drug-courier profiles had been largely confined to airports.)

With DEA financing, training courses were set up, and they began churning out thousands of Pipeline graduates a year, officers who would return home and train thousands more.

It spread like a virus.


IF YOU COME INTO CONTACT WITH ONE OF THE ESTIMATED TWENTY-SEVEN THOUSAND Operation Pipeline grads currently cruising the highways, chances are you’ll never know it. The officer who pulls you over will look the same as any other traffic cop. Same hat. Same badge. Same car. He will not tell you he is a narcotics officer, and you will never suspect it, because, after all, who ever heard of drug agents passing out tickets for broken taillights?

The mechanics of a Pipeline stop are much like a minuet, except the trooper is the only one who hears the music or knows the steps–all of which lead inexorably to a thorough search of your car.

“I’m looking for anything that will get me in that car or get him out of the car,” Utah trooper Mangelson explained in his 1997 deposition.

Because of various court rulings and constitutional impediments, things must be done delicately and in the proper order, so as not to overtly violate your rights.

It will begin like any traffic stop. You’ll be asked for your license and registration, and while looking over your papers, the officer will ask you a series of questions about your travel plans. He’ll be friendly and polite: Where are you heading? How long will you be there? He’ll ask what you do for a living, or something equally innocuous.

“And when I’m doing this, you know, I’m not sitting there grilling you,” Mangelson said. “I’m doing it in a way that you probably don’t even realize what I’m doing.”

What he’s doing is called an interrogation, and your responses are being watched very closely. Did you have to think before answering? Did you repeat his questions? Are you being too helpful, too cooperative, or too talkative? Those are all bad signs, as bad as monosyllabic answers. If you have a passenger, the passenger will be taken off to the side and interrogated separately. The officer will check to see if your stories match.

“Criminals on the road are–how can I put it? I’ve always used this theory. If a guy can convince me of his legitimacy of being where he is or where he’s going, then there’s probably not much criminal activity going on,” Mangelson said. “But by the same token, if he tells me he’s going to Salt Lake, and I say, ‘What takes you to Salt Lake?’ and he goes, ‘I’m going to see a friend.’ If I say, ‘What’s your friend’s name?’ and he doesn’t know the friend’s name or he rattles some name off the wall, [I ask] ‘What’s his address?’ He’s now becoming extremely nervous, and he can’t tell me the friend’s address, doesn’t know the phone number. ‘How are you going to visit your friend if you don’t know his address or phone number?’ By now, he’s trembling. The veins are poking out on the side of the neck and you can see his heart beating there and his hands are shaking and his mouth is so dry, he can’t even talk to you. You know he’s dirty. And he knows I’m on to him.”

The indicators are tallied up. No indicators, no problem. Unless you’ve got a gun or a kilo of cocaine lying on the front seat, you’ll be kicked loose. You may not even get a ticket. Many Pipeline officers don’t write them or write only enough of them to maintain the facade that they are traffic policemen.

If your indicators are on the high side, however, this is what will happen. You’ll be given your papers back, and then the officer will hang around and strike up a conversation. What most drivers don’t realize is that at this point, they have magically crossed into a whole new legal universe. At the moment your license and registration are returned, you are technically free to leave. In the eyes of the law, the traffic stop is over. Now you and Officer Friendly are just having a “consensual” chat. And your new friend is free to ask you anything.

From here, it’s almost a script.

You’ll be told that the local police have been having a problem with people ferrying guns and drugs along this part of the highway, but they’re doing their best to stop it. Good, you may say. Glad to hear it. The officer will nod and say he’s happy you see it that way. By the way, you wouldn’t happen to have any guns or drugs in your car, would you?

Me? you will ask. Oh, no. Of course not.

Then the officer will look at you and say, Then you don’t mind if I take a look-see, do you?

If you’re like nine out of ten people who get asked this question, you’ll gulp and say, No, no, officer, go right ahead.

You’ll be asked to consent–orally or on paper–to a search, but don’t think too hard or hesitate to comply, because those are more indicators of drug trafficking, as is refusing to allow the search. (And here’s where things can get dangerous, where the psychopath who won’t be taken might pull his gun. A 1992 Pipeline stop in South Carolina resulted in a shoot-out that killed the officer and wounded his suspect. And this past January, a veteran Pipeline officer in Georgia was murdered during a stop.)

“If they refuse, the stuff’s in the trunk,” our CHP instructor tells us matter-of-factly. A refusal justifies calling out the dogs and letting a drug-sniffing canine take a walk around your car. If Fido gets a whiff of something, the cop doesn’t need your permission anymore.

Most drivers consent. This can authorize a complete search of everything, including your luggage and your person. It allows the officer literally to take your car apart with an air hammer, which has happened. One of the CHP’s first Pipeline officers, Richard Himbarger, was legendary for carrying an electric screwdriver in his patrol car and removing heater ducts, fenders, trunk lids, and interior body panels, right by the side of the road.

“Once they’ve given consent,” our CHP instructor tells us, “they’ve dug their own grave.”


DEPUTY LOU GARCIA WAS ASSIGNED TO SHERIFF VOGEL’S SELECTIVE ENFORCEMENT TEAM IN 1989. A canine-unit officer, Garcia would be summoned at all hours to walk his drug dog, Condor, near the cars the SET squad had pulled over on I-95. Lots of times, he’d be out on the highway at 3:00 a.m., splashing through swamps with Condor, chasing down panic-stricken motorists who’d bolted into the darkness. He didn’t mind. Garcia was thrilled to have been chosen to work with Vogel’s crew. The sheriff took good care of his boys: overtime, fancy Stetson hats, rapid promotions. By all accounts, Vogel was equally thrilled to have Lou Garcia on his team, and he commended the officer repeatedly.

“Thanks to you, our drug- and money-interdiction program is working,” Vogel wrote in one enthusiastic letter.

The son of a New Mexico coal miner, Garcia had come to the Volusia County Sheriff’s Office after fifteen years in the U. S. Army as a paratrooper, a military policeman, and a drill instructor. He hired on at the sheriff’s office in 1985 at $10.50 an hour and was in paradise. “When I finally got to be a deputy, I felt I had achieved my goal in life.”

But his wife, Angie, began noticing that her husband was increasingly moody after his shift. “He’d get home sometimes after being out on that highway,” she says, “and he’d just be shaking his head, and I’d ask him what was wrong, and he’d say, ‘You won’t believe what they’re doing out there.’ ”

Garcia says he soon discovered the secret of Vogel’s highly touted highway interdiction program: The cops concentrated on minority drivers, narrowing the universe of motorists to those they thought most likely to have drugs or guns, even though, in reality, drugs and guns turn up in searches of their vehicles with the same frequency as in those of white drivers. Garcia says he was present at a gathering of deputies on the median of I-95 when Vogel instructed them to focus their attention on black and Hispanic drivers. Vogel denies that happened, but another deputy, Frank Josenhans, corroborates Garcia’s story.

Still, it wasn’t as if Garcia needed to hear it from the sheriff’s mouth. “I knew who they were stopping. I saw the people. It was blacks, mostly, and they were all being pulled over for weaving. The black race was the only race I knew of that wasn’t able to stay in a lane. Black people just couldn’t seem to do it.”

What Garcia was witnessing in Volusia County was not an aberration. As more and more police departments signed up for Operation Pipeline, it began happening in other places, too. Sometimes the police didn’t even bother to hide it. Georgia state troopers told an Atlanta reporter in 1987 that they watched for rented cars from south Florida driven by blacks or Latinos.

Officer Richard Curtis of the Lexington, Kentucky, police department admitted under oath in a drug-interdiction case that race was one of the indicators looked at, as were out-of-state license plates. In another case, Alabama state trooper John Guthrie tes-tified that his indicators included “Texas plates” and “Mexicans.”

The “cocaine-courier profile” used by the New Mexico State Police along I-40 surfaced in court in the late 1980s. The very first indicator: “The vehicle occupants are usually resident aliens from Colombia.” This profile, it turned out, had been sent to police departments nationwide by the DEA’s El Paso Intelligence Center, the department that manages the Pipeline program and provides its annual funding of roughly $800,000.

Ironically, that’s the same amount of money the taxpayers of Eagle County, Colorado–which encompasses the ski resort of Vail–forked over to settle a class-action suit filed on behalf of 402 black and Hispanic drivers who had been stopped and searched by the High Country Drug Task Force, a Pipeline unit funded directly by the DEA. The task force “systematically violated the constitutionally protected rights of blacks and Hispanics to travel and be free from unreasonable seizures,” U. S. district judge James Carrigan wrote in a blistering criticism of the program in 1990. The evidence that race was used as an indicator, Carrigan ruled, was “undeniable,” and such practice amounted to “a racist assumption.”

Federal public defender Bryan Lessley obtained internal Oregon State Police records showing that the number of Hispanics being stopped on the highways near Grants Pass by a Pipeline unit was “grossly out of proportion” to the number of Hispanics on the road. He uncovered state-police training manuals that told Pipeline students a “high percentage” of narcotics traffickers were Hispanic.

In New Jersey, state-police Pipeline units assigned to the southern end of the New Jersey Turnpike were found by a superior-court judge to have had “at least a de facto policy . . . of targeting blacks for investigation and arrest,” which resulted in the dismissal of six hundred cases. A former New Jersey state trooper, Kenneth Wilson, admitted in a sworn statement that he was trained to target blacks and Hispanics. A statistical analysis by John Lamberth of Temple University backed up Wilson’s claims. Lamberth found that though blacks made up only 13 percent of the drivers on the turnpike, they accounted for nearly half the stops made by drug-seeking troopers.
The Maryland State Police made perhaps the biggest tactical blunder in the program’s history in 1992, when a Pipeline unit pulled over a black family in a rental car outside Washington, D. C., ordered them out into the rain, and then ran a drug-sniffing dog in and out of their car, over their repeated objections. The driver turned out to be a Harvard Law graduate, Robert Wilkins, a public defender who was on his way home from a family funeral in Chicago. Wilkins slapped the Maryland State Police with a civil-rights suit and accepted a settlement that forced the cops to keep detailed records of their Pipeline stops for the next three years. The results were more proof of Pipeline’s unique affinity for minorities: Of the 732 people who were detained and searched during 1995 and 1996, 75 percent were black and 5 percent Hispanic. The Maryland ACLU has filed another civil-rights suit based on those figures.


A GRANDMOTHERLY WOMAN IN A SLAB-SIDED PLYMOUTH FURY III ZIPS BY. Not a chance, I think. Next is a man in a suit, driving a gigantic white Lincoln Navigator, cell phone pressed to his ear. Mr. Business. With my luck, he’d turn out to be a lawyer. Pass. A teenage girl in her mom’s station wagon. Ditto. Then comes the carload of Mexicans.

They look as though they’re having one hell of a time, laughing, arms hanging out the window. Then they spot the CHP cruiser I’m sitting in, and the party is over. They look around furtively, sit up straight, won’t meet my steely gaze. The driver begins practicing the ten-and-two hand position on the steering wheel that he probably hasn’t used since driver’s ed. Bingo. A whole bunch of indicators right there. These guys are mine.

That is the result of my first drill using the lessons I gained from Pipeline school. I am sitting in the front seat of the head instructor’s patrol car, shaded by a giant oak. We are parked perpendicular to a bucolic two-lane highway in the hills beyond Susanville, California, checking out the sparse midmorning traffic. It is day two of my Pipeline training class, and I am putting my newly acquired observational skills to the test.

No one has instructed me to look for Mexicans; in fact, we were informed that racial profiling is illegal and frowned upon. But we were also taught that it is the Colombians and the Mexicans whose cartels are bringing most of the dope in and that a lot of drug mules are hired off the streets of Tijuana for $500 in cash. Not many gringos I’ve seen fit that description.

Plus, the Mexicans just look shifty to me. What are they doing, I wonder, driving around, yukking it up at 10:30 in the morning in the middle of the week? I am at work. Why aren’t they? And if they are unemployed, where’d they get the money for that nice Mercury?

And then I realize the problem with Operation Pipeline.

If I were looking for unsafe drivers, as most patrolmen do, it wouldn’t make any difference to me what the driver looked like or how he acted when he drove by or whether I thought he could afford his car. All I would care about would be how he was driving.

But that’s not my job as a Pipeline officer. My job is to get drugs and guns off the highway, so I look for people who look like they might have them. And since I have only a limited time out on the highway each day, I’m not going to waste it pulling over people who look like upstanding citizens–people who look like me and my friends, for instance.

I remember what my instructors told me repeatedly. If something appears “abnormal,” investigate. Always ask yourself whether this is something that you would do or say. If not, be suspicious. And suddenly, the baseline for determining who gets pulled over and searched is a forty-three-year-old white suburbanite’s vision of normalcy. Most of the white people I have seen driving by, I have to admit, look pretty normal to me. But the Mexicans don’t. Plus, there are all those indicators: their nervousness upon seeing a police car, the air freshener dangling from the mirror, their goddamn refusal to look at me.

It’s no wonder, I realize, that 90 percent of the people arrested by the CHP’s Pipeline units during the last two years have been minorities. They never stood a chance.

If I were empowered to do so, I could pull them over on some pretext to satisfy my curiosity. Maybe I would find something–drug-tainted money, a loaded gun, a kilo or two of cocaine or methamphetamine. Or maybe just a peaceable carload of people going from here to there, not owing me or anyone else an explanation. But if I do this long enough and use the indicators I’ve learned to pull over a volume of people, I will invariably find criminals. That was a big bag of dope in the Screamer’s trunk, after all. But does that justify scaring the bejesus out of the thousands of other motorists–the honest ones whose taxes pay my salary and pave these roads–whom I will misjudge? Will they think being interrogated and searched was a fair trade?

And what of the enormous waste of police manpower that goes into stopping and searching thousands of cars in which nothing more incriminating than old gum wrappers is found? Even the cops admit that highway seizures don’t make a dent in the quarter-trillion-dollar-a-year American narcotics industry. So, in the end, one is left to wonder: What is the point of all this harassment, this inefficiency, this futility? Is it really a way of finding contraband? Or is it, perhaps, a way of acclimating us to a future in which we will be routinely shadowed, stopped, and frisked by the police–a nation of suspects?


IN 1996, THE U. S. SUPREME COURT UNANIMOUSLY ENDORSED BOB VOGEL’S METHOD OF STOPPING PEOPLE FOR MINOR TRAFFIC VIOLATIONS IN ORDER TO SEARCH THEIR CARS FOR DRUGS. An officer’s real reason for pulling over a car didn’t matter a whit, the justices said, so long as some type of traffic offense–no matter how trivial–occurred first. It made no difference that the motor-vehicle codes gave the cops a license to “single out almost whomever they wish for a stop,” Justice Antonin Scalia wrote. It was not the role of the Supreme Court to decide whether there were too many traffic laws or which ones should no longer be enforced.
Since that ruling, known as the Whren decision, state and local police participation in Operation Pipeline has soared. Enrollments in DEA training schools are way up. “After Whren,” one of my CHP instructors told me, “the game was over. We won.”

Last fall, another Supreme Court decision, rejecting the search of an Iowa motorist’s car without probable cause, was widely hailed in the media as reinforcing the privacy rights of drivers. But since Pipeline officers are trained to legally justify a “reasonable suspicion,” or, of course, get the driver’s permission, before searching a car, this court decision may actually boost the popularity of Operation Pipeline.

That’s why it’s so ironic that Bob Vogel is no longer on the front lines of this particular war. Though his methods have received the stamp of unanimous approval from the highest court in the land, he’s quit teaching and has mothballed his drug-interdiction program. After a while, he said, it just wasn’t worth it.

In 1992, The Orlando Sentinel began printing stories that essentially accused Vogel’s SET unit of being racist thugs who were stealing money from innocent travelers. The newspaper said it found nearly two hundred cases in which deputies had taken a driver’s cash but made no arrests, and 90 percent of those cases involved minority drivers.

And then the tapes came out. It seemed Vogel’s boys had been videotaping their stops for posterity, and 148 hours of them were turned over to the newspaper. Example: a May 16, 1990, stop of a white driver. SET sergeant Dale Anderson strolls up to the car and asks the man how he’s doing.

“Not very good,” the driver replies.

“Could be worse,” Anderson reminds him. “Could be black.”

The civil-rights suits flew fast and furious after that. The U.S. Justice Department announced an investigation, and FBI agents started snooping around. A federal grand jury was empaneled.

The Sentinel won a Pulitzer prize for its exposé, a fact that grates on Vogel to this day. “Anybody who saw those stories would have thought I was some racist, tobacco-chewing, Billy Bob, redneck southern sheriff,” he complains. He leans forward slightly and asks me, mistakenly, if I was aware that the editor who oversaw the Sentinel’s coverage was an African-American.

“I’ll bet they didn’t tell you that part,” he says.

Eventually, the hubbub subsided. The discrimination suits were dismissed after federal judges declared that they had not seen convincing evidence of racial injustice. And the Justice Department, while muttering darkly about Vogel’s methods, declined to prosecute him on civil-rights charges, reportedly because it didn’t think a jury would convict him.

Critics called the investigation a whitewash, but there was more involved than that. History, for one thing. For more than a decade, Bob Vogel’s controversial system has been officially endorsed, financed, and espoused by the DEA–an arm of the Justice Department. Having Operation Pipeline’s creator brought up on federal civil-rights charges would have put the Justice Department and every other police agency involved in a rather awkward spot, especially when so many civil-rights suits were pending.

Vogel sees this as total vindication. “I’ve been investigated by just about everyone–the FBI, the Justice Department, the NAACP, the ACLU–and they haven’t been able to win a solitary case,” he says. “This whole thing is something that drug lawyers grabbed ahold of to try to beat some arrests by dragging race into it.”

If that’s true, he is asked, then why has this program had such lopsided racial results in state after state? Why are the statistics so one-sided?

Vogel stiffens. “Let me have my assistant, Lenny Davis, come in and answer that question for you. He might have an explanation for it.” A few minutes later, Chief Deputy Davis, a large, friendly black man, sits down and solemnly assures me that the reason so many blacks and Hispanics are being pulled over is because so many of them are involved in the drug business.

Vogel sits next to his chief deputy, nodding. But he doesn’t say a word.

This article originally appeared in the April 1999 edition of Esquire Magazine

“If we desire respect for the law, we must first make the law respectable.” – U.S. Supreme Court Justice Louis D. Brandeis