Massachusetts High Court Says Black Men May Have Cause to Run From the Police

John Adams Courthouse in Boston, home of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court
John Adams Courthouse in Boston, home of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court

A black man who runs from police shouldn’t necessarily be considered suspicious — and merely might be trying to avoid “the recurring indignity of being racially profiled,” the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court says.

The court made that observation as it overturned the conviction of 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.

As member station WBUR reports, the court cited “Boston police data and a 2014 report by the ACLU of Massachusetts that found blacks were disproportionately stopped by the city’s police” as it threw out the 2011 gun conviction of Jimmy Warren.

The court also cited “a factual irony” in how flight from police is viewed and said that in this instance, a Boston police officer decided to approach Warren and a companion despite important factors: The officer 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.

Some 30 minutes after the crime was reported, Officer Luis Anjos was driving in his police cruiser when he spotted Warren and another man, rolled down the passenger-side window, and yelled, “Hey guys, wait a minute.”

Rather than talk to the officer, 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.

The court wrote:

“Where a suspect is under no obligation to respond to a police officer’s inquiry, we are of the view that flight to avoid that contact should be given little, if any, weight as a factor probative of reasonable suspicion. Otherwise, our long-standing jurisprudence establishing the boundary between consensual and obligatory police encounters will be seriously undermined.”

Discussing how a person’s race can also be a factor, the Massachusetts court said it’s important to consider a recent Boston Police Department report “documenting a pattern of racial profiling of black males in the city of Boston.”

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SOURCE: NPR, Bill Chappell