Court: Fear of Police ‘Legitimate’ for Black Men
A Massachusetts court is sympathizing with the plight of Black men when it comes to interacting with police.
A ruling by the state’s Supreme Judicial Court says Black men who try to avoid an encounter with Boston police by fleeing may have a legitimate reason to do so.
According to WBUR, the court cited Boston police data and a 2014 report by Massachusetts’ ACLU chapter that found Blacks to be disproportionately stopped by the city’s police.
On Tuesday, the state’s highest court also threw out the gun conviction of Jimmy Warren, who was arrested on Dec. 18, 2011 by police who were investigating a break in in Roxbury. Police said the suspects were described as three Black men. One wore a red hoodie, one wore a black hoodie and the other was allegedly dressed in dark clothing.
Later, an officer spotted Warren and another man (both wearing dark clothing) walking near a park, officials say. When the officer approached the men, they ran.
Warren was later detained and searched. No contraband was found on him, but police recovered an unlicensed .22 caliber firearm in a yard nearby. He was charged with unlawful possession of a firearm and later convicted.
The court made two major findings in its ruling: The justices said police didn’t have the right to stop Warren in the first place, and the fact that he ran away shouldn’t be used against him.
“Lacking any information about facial features, hairstyles, skin tone, height, weight, or other physical characteristics, the victim’s description contribute nothing to the officers ability to distinguish the defendant from any other ‘Black male’ wearing dark clothes and a ‘hoodie’ in Roxbury,” the court wrote in its ruling. “We do not eliminate flight as a factor in the reasonable suspicion analysis whenever a Black male is the subject of an investigatory stop. However, in such circumstances, flight is not necessarily probative of a suspect’s state of mind or consciousness of guilt. Rather, the finding that Black males in Boston are disproportionately and repeatedly targeted for FIO [Field Interrogation and Observation] encounters suggests a reason for flight totally unrelated to consciousness of guilt. Such an individual, when approached by the police, might just as easily be motivated by the desire to avoid the recurring indignity of being racially profiled as by the desire to hide criminal activity.”
The court concluded that in this case, police lacked reasonable suspicion for an investigatory stop.
Between 2007 and 2010, 63 percent of Boston police encounters were with Blacks. The city’s African-American population was just 24 percent at the time, the ACLU report found. Notably, the report said that high-crime neighborhoods that were also taken into account did not explain the disparity.
Boston Police Commissioner Bill Evans blasted the SJC ruling and said he was “troubled” the court cited the ACLU report.
“I’m a little disappointed that they relied heavily on a report that didn’t take into context who was stopped and why,” Evans told reporters Tuesday. “That report clearly shows that we were targeting the individuals that were driving violence in the city and the hot spots.”
The SJC ruling also cited the Boston Police Department’s analysis. It found Blacks were 8 percent more likely to be stopped repeatedly and 12 percent more likely to be searched and frisked.