Court to blacks: Flee from cops
On December 18, 2011, police arrested Jimmy Warren during an investigation of a Roxbury, Mass., break-in. Warren reportedly fit the description of the victim, who said the suspects were three black men – one with a black hoodie, another wearing a red hoodie and the third wearing some type of dark clothing. Warren was apprehended with one of the other described suspects after police matched him as one of the three wearing dark clothing. Both subsequently fled.
“Both men fled when approached by an officer seeking to question them,” WND reports. “When Warren was later apprehended, he was accused of possession of an unlicensed .22-caliber pistol that police said he threw away during pursuit. While no items from the burglary were found in his possession, he was charged and convicted of unlawful possession of the weapon. Warren appealed.”
Permission to flee
Two arguments were given by the Massachusetts Supreme court to justify its decision to acquit the men, including one contending that the witness’ description of the burglars was too vague and that the “ubiquitous” clothing description did not provide enough cause to apprehend the two, who judges contended were arrested on a mere “hunch,” according to WBUR News.
“Lacking any information about facial features, hairstyles, skin tone, height, weight or other physical characteristics, the victim’s description ‘contribute[d] nothing to the officers’ ability to distinguish the defendant from any other black male’ wearing dark clothes and a ‘hoodie’ in Roxbury,” the high justices from the Bay State wrote in their decision.
Furthermore, a charge that the Boston Police Department shows “a pattern of racial profiling of black males” – an allegation stated in an American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) Report – was cited by the court, which indicated that blacks are not necessarily admitting guilt by fleeing from police and that running from cops is a reasonable action for those trying to prevent suffering the “indignity” of racial discrimination. The ACLU’s report went on to note that 63 percent of the Boston police’s interactions with civilians from 2007 to 2010 were with blacks, who comprise just under a quarter of Bostonians.
According to the Massachusetts judges, fleeing from an arrest should not be considered as an admission of guilt.
“We do not eliminate flight as a factor in the reasonable suspicion analysis whenever a black male is the subject of an investigatory stop,” reads the judge’s decision. “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. 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.”
It is not mandatory for citizens – under state law – to speak with police. Massachusetts law also does not require citizens to not walk away from police officers if they are not being charged with a crime.
Praise and condemnation of the decision
The ACLU of Massachusetts praised the reasoning behind the controversial decision, using it to lift up the all-too-familiar Black Lives Matter movement.
‘[It was a] powerful ruling [confirming] for people of color [that] their lives matter,” ACLU of Massachusetts Legal Director Matthew Segal proclaimed. “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.”
However, Boston Police Commissioner Bill Evans condemned the ruling for putting too much weight on the ACLU’s anti-police document.
“[The court relied too heavily on the ACLU’s report, which was] clearly way out of context [and] heavily tainted against the police department,” Evans asserted.
Prosecutors are now asking for a rehearing in the case.
It is believed that the controversial ruling could change the way police attempt to bring citizens to justice.
“[The decision will] contribute substantially to the national debate [by forcing courts to] put in context [reasons black defendants might legitimately flee, and to not automatically view running from police as evidence of guilt], said Harvard Law School professor and former federal Judge Nancy Gertner, according to Radio Boston. “Maybe it will force officers to pause before they begin one of these encounters, understanding what the atmosphere is. … Police will just have to develop other investigative tools.”