Driving while Black is not a crime

One spring evening in 1996, David Smith, a sergeant with the Indiana State Police Department, was traveling home to his Carmel subdivision in an unmarked maroon Chevrolet Caprice. While waiting at a traffic light, he saw a Carmel police officer observing him from another lane. Moments later, the officer activated his emergency lights and motioned Smith to pull over.

Smith had made a legal left turn and had been followed by several other cars that were not pulled over. He had observed all applicable traffic laws and regulations. He was driving an older car, and he was wearing his full State Police officer's uniform without the hat. So what crime did Sgt. Smith commit? From the neck up, it was not obvious that he was a police officer. It was obvious, however, that he was Black.

Driving while Black, or young, or Latino, or sporting 15 bumper stickers or five antennas is not a crime, and police who make stops because of these reasons are violating the motorists' constitutional rights.

After the two vehicles came to a stop, Smith got out of his car and approached the other officer, who appeared to be surprised that Smith was wearing a police uniform. The officer told Smith he had pulled him over for having three antennas on the rear of his car—what Smith believed was an obvious pretext for an illegal stop.

The ACLU of Indiana brought a challenge against the City of Carmel on Smith's behalf for its practice of stopping motorists without cause for things like driving older cars, driving cars without Hamilton County license plates, and being young or a minority. The Indianapolis Chapter of the NAACP joined the class action lawsuit, Smith, et al. v. City of Carmel, which resulted in an agreement with the city to stop vehicles only if there was a lawful cause, and to videotape all traffic stops for review.

The work of the ACLU of Indiana is to ensure that Hoosiers know their rights, and that civil servants know the limits to their power.

Download a copy of the lawsuit

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