Friday, April 21, 2006

Driving While Black, Local Edition

The Philly Inquirer provided the latest update in the Whitemarsh Township case regarding a pattern of discriminatory police tactics, in Officer's tactics no secret, some say. The essence of the claims are that:

For more than a decade, Whitemarsh Township officials and police commanders looked the other way while a rogue sergeant used racial profiling to illegally arrest blacks, according to current and former police officers.

They say allegations that Sgt. Guy Anhorn was targeting African American motorists - mainly Philadelphia residents - were known even in neighboring police departments. And they say Whitemarsh officials were repeatedly warned about him.

I count myself as part of "some say." Off and on, I have worked in the suburbs around Whitemarsh Township for over 15 years. I'm a long time "reverse commuter" from Philly to the 'burbs.

As part of my route to the office, I traveled on Ridge Pike for many years. As you cross the city line at Philadelphia border, the speed limit is reduced, so it is a favorite area for police to target drivers. However, it was amazing to me that a significant number of drivers pulled over by police were black, even though the vast majority of drivers on that road were not.

It was something that dawned on you over time. So much so that it became a mental game for me to pass the time on my way to and from the office. Whenever I saw someone stopped, I slowed down to look in the car to see the race of the driver. 9 out of 10 times -- black driver. Mostly male. Yet, if I had to guess, the percentage of minority drivers on that road was probably no more than 20-25%.

It was so obvious that it became the subject on an on-going joke in my Plymouth Meeting office. I was hardly the only one who noticed this pattern of police abuse. I used to say that I was going to start a civil rights practice and start handing my cards out at the city line between Philly and Whitemarsh Township.

In fact, when this story first broke a few years ago, after a group of blacks sued the Police Department, I seriously considered contacting counsel for the plaintiffs, to offer my story, for what it was worth. I never did, figuring that my testimony probably wouldn't meet evidentiary standards to be admitted in court.

But, I can attest without any doubt that the story is surely true.

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