Mass. High Court Says Black Men May Have Cause To Run From Police
According to the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, black men have legitimate reasons to fear police and therefore should not be deemed suspicious when they try to run from police encounters.
In a report from NPR the court determined the ruling in a case this past Tuesday. They overturned the conviction of Jimmy Warren, a man who was charged with carrying a firearm without a permit after he ran from a Boston police officer who, the court says in its ruling, “lacked reasonable suspicion” to try to stop him in the first place.
The court also cited “a factual irony” in how flight from police is viewed. In this instance, Boston police officer Luis Anjos decided to approach Warren and a companion despite important factors: Anjos was looking for three, not two, suspects, and he had been given only vague descriptions that the suspects were wearing dark clothing and a hoodie.
Rather than talk to Anjos the court said, “the two men made eye contact with Anjos, turned around, and jogged down a path” into a park. They were apprehended after Anjos called for assistance.
During the case the court also discussed how race plays a factor in such incidents, citing Boston police data and a 2014 report by the ACLU of Massachusetts that found blacks were disproportionately stopped by the city’s police.
“We do not eliminate flight as a factor in the reasonable suspicion analysis whenever a black male is the subject of an investigatory stop,” the judges wrote. But also added that flight alone doesn’t prove “a suspect’s state of mind or consciousness of guilt.”
The court also wrote:
“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. Given this reality for black males in the city of Boston, a judge should, in appropriate cases, consider the report’s findings in weighing flight as a factor in the reasonable suspicion calculus.”
Matthew Segal, the legal director of the ACLU of Massachusetts, said that Tuesday’s ruling was a “powerful” one.
“The state’s highest court, in talking about people of color, it’s saying that their lives matter and under the law, their views matter,” Segal said. “The reason that’s significant is that all the time in police-civilian encounters there are disputes about what is suspicious and what is not suspicious. So this is an opinion that looks at those encounters through the eyes of a black man who might justifiably be concerned that he will be the victim of profiling.”