In a ruling to toss out a gun conviction, a Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court said on Tuesday that Boston police had no right to stop the black suspect in the first place — and argued that black men who flee police in the city shouldn’t automatically arouse suspicion in light of the way the group is “disproportionally and repeatedly targeted” by police.
To bolster its reasoning, the court used data in part from a 2014 ACLU report, which found that between 2007 and 2010, 63% of the encounters Boston police had were with black people — despite the fact that the city’s population is only 24% black.
This statistic, court documents said, plays a significant role in trying to ascertain whether or not a suspect is fleeing authorities out of guilt or fear:
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. 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.
The case being deliberated involved Jimmy Warren, a black man arrested on December 18, 2011 as police attempted to investigate a break-in in Roxbury, Massachusetts, WBUR News reported.
The descriptions of the three suspects that the officers had to go on were scant: They were looking for three black men — one in a “red hoodie,” one in a “black hoodie” and the third in “dark clothing.” But a lack of information didn’t stop the officers from isolating Warren and another man, who both ran as police pursued them.
Warren hadn’t committed the break-in, but a .22 caliber firearm found on the grass nearby landed him a conviction for unlawful possession of a firearm.
But according to Tuesday’s court ruling, police hadn’t had sufficient evidence to pursue him in the first place — and running from authorities may be a reasonable action for an innocent black man to take.