There are some accusations that evoke a response of "Oh, that can’t be true." The ICLU gets regular complaints from African-Americans that they are subjected to traffic stops for no reason, and it is tempting for a white lawyer to dismiss those…
There are some accusations that evoke a response of "Oh, that can’t be true." The ICLU gets regular complaints from African-Americans that they are subjected to traffic stops for no reason, and it is tempting for a white lawyer to dismiss those complaints as evidence of hypersensitivity, of a "victim" mentality.
I can no longer do so.
Last week, the ICLU and Johnson, Smith, Pence, Densborn, Wright and Heath brought suit against the Carmel police on behalf of the NAACP and David Smith, a black state trooper with an impeccable driving record. The complaint alleges a pattern and practice of stopping motorists without probable cause if the motorist, in effect, doesn’t look like he or she "belongs" in Carmel.
The publicity about our lawsuit has unleashed an avalanche of similar complaints, not just from Carmel, but from throughout the state. Interestingly, a large percentage of the calls we have received have come from whites who have witnessed incidents of racial harassment, who have seen African-Americans being pulled over for no apparent reason.
Studies suggest that although blacks make up approximately 14% of the population, they account for 72% of all "routine" traffic stops.
When civil libertarians talk about due process and the equal protection of the laws, it can seem very abstract and theoretical. But those legal terms mean something. They mean that the government cannot treat you differently based upon characteristics like your skin color, or ethnicity, or age, or how old your car is. It means the government has to apply the same rules to everyone.
Some of the stories I have heard this last week have made me incredibly sad. I can’t help wondering how I would feel if I had spent my entire life working hard, trying to succeed, trying to be a good citizen, and I had to explain to my children why the police felt free to stop me for no reason when my white neighbor suffered no such indignity. My heart went out to the mothers who said they told their children not to utter a word other than "yes sir" if an officer stopped them, no matter how wrongly. They feared for their children’s physical safety if they protested, if they insisted upon their rights as citizens.
Two weeks before the Carmel lawsuit was filed, the Ft.Wayne Journal-Gazette ran a column by Bonnie Blackburn, a member of their editorial board, which began "You won’t find it in any statute book. Nor is it included in driver’s education manuals as a traffic offense to avoid. But minorities across this great land of ours are all too familiar with the offense dubbed DWB: Driving While Black."