The New Jersey State Police force, founded 100 years ago, has a dark and tumultuous racist past that researcher Dr. W. Carsten Andersen of St. Edward’s University recently revealed in an essay written for The Conversation.
Andersen found that the agency emerged to counter the influence of the state’s rising populations of African Americans and immigrants, whom white residents feared.
The essay was based in part on a video research project to mark the 100th anniversary of the state police.
Andersen begins by explaining that back in 1917, Paul Garrett, a well known businessman, declared that the state should have a police agency to handle what he called the “foreign problem.” Andersen’s research uncovers that the problem he’s describing is the uptick in diverse populations, and a rise in crime that Garrett attributed largely to the state’s growing ethnic diversity.
Garrett focused on 13 of New Jersey’s 21 counties as locations that needed a controlling force, often describing the crime trends and the alleged perpetrators with “clearly racist terms,” Andersen notes.
Andersen also found that following Garrett’s public praise of Pennsylvania’s first state police force for its “military and physical prowess” and their ability to shoot African Americans “a mile off,” the New Jersey legislature began pushing for a militarized police force of its own.
Toxic and Racist Work Environment
The first African-American trooper didn’t join the New Jersey State Police until 1961, Andersen found. That man, Paul Dean McLemore, years later, described a toxic and racist culture in which white colleagues pasted flyers around the workplace referring to African Americans as “porch monkeys, coons, and saucer lips.”
In an interview with the state commission seeking to prevent future unrest like the July 1967 Newark riots that left 24 citizens dead, McLemore said his colleagues “singled out African Americans for violence,” Andersen said.
McLemore said that white police officers went to Newark with the same excitement as if “they were going off to war,” Andersen reports.
When he spoke out about the racism within the ranks, the police department responded by demoting him from detective to clerical worker, and scheduled him to take overnight shifts filing paperwork. Soon thereafter, he resigned — but went on to graduate from law school and become a civil rights attorney and a judge,
This, Andersen explains, is just one example of what African-American troopers experienced.
Last month, McLemore participated in a videotaped discussion with Col. Patrick Callahan and Attorney General Gurbir Grewal to discuss his life and his experiences on the force.
In 1989, the Middlesex County Public Defender’s Office identified “a high percentage of black, out-of-state motorists … being stopped on the New Jersey Turnpike by the State Police.” At the time, the state police were involved in Operation Pipeline — a U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency program aimed at reducing drug trafficking.
Despite this, it appeared that the prosecutor highlighted racial profiling behavior on behalf of the officers carrying out the disproportionate amount of vehicle stops.
This opened years of investigations, eventually ruling in 1996 that the New Jersey State Police had a “de facto policy … of targeting blacks for investigation and arrest, violating people’s constitutional rights,” with the Attorney General acknowledging in 1999 that racial profiling “is real — not imagined,” Andersen details.
But years later, Andersen says, not much has changed.
In 2017, the New Jersey State Police made President Donald Trump – “who espoused white supremacist views and beliefs and encouraged police to treat citizens violently” – an honorary trooper, complete with an actual badge number, 45.
Andersen explains the symbolism and weight of this action, noting that a badge number is normally restricted only to officers who have completed the state’s police academy – and was not given to any other presidents or politicians.
Overall, Andersen advocates for continued research; yet one thing is clear, he says: 100 years later, the New Jersey State Police have been characterized by past racist tendencies.
W. Carsten Andersen, Ph.D., is an Associate Professor of Criminal Justice at St. Edward’s University, where he has taught within the department for five years. Prior to that, Dr. Andersen worked as a researcher at Travis County Justice Planning and Travis County Adult Probation.
Editor’s Note: This story has been corrected, to clarify that the research cited in the original version of this article referred to an unrelated report.
Andrea Cipriano is a TCR staff writer.