NJ Town Holds Public Hearing on Complaints of Racial Profiling by Traffic Cops

Brian Nina took a cab Tuesday to a public hearing on racial profiling in the town of Bloomfield.

The 19-year-old resident told NBC 4 New York before the hearing that he didn't want to risk driving out of concern that he'd be pulled over by the town's police.

"I'm afraid to drive in my own town because I feel like I'll get pulled over and harassed," he said. 

Nina said he's been pulled over more than 20 times in recent years. He was stopped just a few weeks ago, when police searched his vehicle after allegedly smelling marijuana. They found nothing. 

"He checked my car, patted me down and made me feel like a criminal in the neighborhood I was raised in," Nina said. 

Rashawn Kelly tells a similar story. He got two tickets this week for minor violations. 

"They're messing with us, like we're doing anything. We're not doing anything. We're part of the community like everybody else here," Kelly said.  

Complaints alleging that police are targeting minority drives have prompted the town's mayor and police director to conduct the public hearing.

A recent study by the Seton Hall University School of Law found that more than 80 percent of those who appeared for court in the predominantly white town were black or Hispanic. The largest proportion of those who appeared in court were from neighboring towns Newark and East Orange.

The director of the school's Center for Policy and Research, Mark Denbeaux, said after the study was released that the town runs a "border patrol that targets people of color."

in response, the Bloomfield Police Department released a statement calling the Seton Hall study deeply flawed and misleading, adding that its manpower is devoted to areas where there is the highest crime.

"[It's] absolutely not true," Bloomfield Police Department Director Samuel DeMaio said. 

"Most of our vehicle stops are in the evening hours. How do you know who's driving a vehicle before you pull it over and walk up to the window?" 

DeMaio told a packed meeting that crime is way down. He said police dash cams are in every vehicle, body cams are on the way and the system is now documenting race. 

Jennifer Payne, who is a member of the local NAACP, said that DeMaio is starting to address the issues. 

"I think some of the practices that are put in place we need to monitor," Payne said. 

The NAACP says it has met with DeMaio and will continue the dialogue on a subject that has sparked a lot of debate. 

With a mayoral election next month, the issue of racial profiling has become front and center in Bloomfield. 

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