Welcome to a Kinder, Gentler New Jersey?

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Don’t tell Christie Whitman that one man does not a revolution make. On Tuesday, following more than a year of controversy over racial profiling and arrests of minority motorists, New Jersey’s governor nominated former FBI agent Carson Dunbar to head the state’s beleaguered police force. If Dunbar’s appointment is approved by the state legislature, he will become the first minority to head the state police, and will be charged with reversing disturbing trends in police behavior. That responsibility weighs heavy on his shoulders. "Do I feel a little pressure?" Dunbar said at a press conference. "Yeah. I feel a lot of pressure." Not surprising, considering that New Jersey police have been harshly criticized for harassing minority and female drivers. Examples abound: Last year, three unarmed black motorists were shot and wounded by two state troopers. Several months ago, the state attorney general and Governor Whitman concluded — after examining state police hiring, arrest and promotion practices — that race-related discrimination does exist in the department.

Dunbar, who says he himself was profiled several years ago while driving in New Jersey, faces challenges both from age-old departmental tensions and from external critics who are poised to pounce on any misstep. Will Dunbar satisfy expectations for racial reconciliation and fair treatment by police? Some aren’t so sure. The Rev. Reginald T. Jackson, director of the Black Ministers Council of New Jersey, issued a weak endorsement of Dunbar’s appointment, saying, "We’ll have to wait and see... If he’s not a strong leader, we’re going to end up in the same situation in two years that we’re in now." Jackson may be keeping one eye on black LAPD chief Bernard Parks, who, since his appointment in August of 1997, has gotten mixed reviews from L.A.'s minority communities. Since it is a rare person who can alter the ingrained behaviors of an entire police force, this "wait and see" attitude is the only reasonable response to the new appointment, says TIME senior reporter Alain Sanders. "No one person can change everything, but all change has to start somewhere. Whitman is committed to cleaning up the police department, and she obviously can’t fire the whole force. So she’s brought in a committed person to get the job done." Unfortunately, says Sanders, in a situation like this one, there will always be cynics. "If Whitman nominated a highly qualified white person for this post, lots of people would have cried foul. Now she’s named a highly qualified black person to the post, and some people will charge that she’s only interested in appearances."