Some in Baltimore say that Running from the Police Is Actually Normal Behavior

© Gabriella Demczuk for The New York Times Desmond Davis of Baltimore says he has stopped running from the police, though he has sometimes regretted that decision.
© Gabriella Demczuk for The New York Times Desmond Davis of Baltimore says he has stopped running from the police, though he has sometimes regretted that decision.

Some do it because there are warrants for their arrest. Others because they possess drugs, are seeking a thrill, or are just plain scared. Sometimes people do it even when they have done nothing wrong. 

Young men in the heavily policed neighborhood where 25-year-old Freddie Gray was chased by the police — and suffered fatal injuries in custody — say running from officers is a way of life with its own playbook, passed down on the streets in much the way a young girl learns double dutch by watching others on the block.

Turn at the nearest corner to escape the officers’ view. Cut through alleys or narrow paths with hiding spots. Once the pursuers have been eluded, stay put for a while to make sure they are really gone. And if getting caught seems inevitable, surrender where there are plenty of witnesses to reduce the odds of being beaten.

“People been running from the police,” said Desmond Davis, 24, a Baltimore resident. “People going to always run from the police.”

Mr. Gray’s death was among a number of recent cases in which unarmed men, who were either black or Hispanic, were killed after fleeing from the police. Other cases include ones in North Charleston, S.C.; Tulsa, Okla.; and Pasco, Wash.

For the nation, those deaths have spurred debate on the use of force by the police, particularly against people suspected of low-level or nonviolent crimes. But for young men in Baltimore, Mr. Gray’s death highlights a sharper dilemma they have long struggled with: Is running worth it?

Many say that it is, and that Mr. Gray’s death has not changed their calculation in deciding whether to run.

“That makes you run faster,” said one young man standing on a street near the neighborhood where Mr. Gray encountered the police.

Running from the police is common enough nationally that the Supreme Court has considered the question of whether the police are justified in stopping and searching people solely because they have fled approaching officers.

In a 2000 case from Chicago, Illinois v. Wardlow, the court ruled that police can establish reasonable suspicion to stop and search if the person is in a high-crime area and sees the police officers before fleeing. Many legal experts believe those criteria apply in the arrest of Mr. Gray in West Baltimore, a neighborhood known for its drug trafficking, where one of the arresting officers said Mr. Gray made eye contact with him before running.

Naturally, many people run if there are warrants for their arrest, fearing that if the police check their names they will be hauled to jail. People might flee because they have drugs and do not want to be in possession of contraband if officers catch them.

Yet some say they also are driven by fear of the unknown. In St. Louis, for instance, young men talk of being caught up what they call a “free case” — in which, they believe, an officer trumps up charges or plants contraband to meet arrest quotas. Here in Baltimore, residents complain that the police might rough them up during random stops, even if they do not try to escape.

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Source: The New York Times |  JOHN ELIGON

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