Speed Reads

police brutality

Massachusetts' highest court says black men may be legally justified in running from the police

In a decision issued Tuesday, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruled that in light of data evidencing disproportionate police profiling of black men, a black man's decision to flee police may be legitimate and should not automatically be treated as suspicious behavior or an implicit 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. 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. [Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court]

The ruling specifically concerned the case of Jimmy Warren, an African-American man who was arrested based on a very vague description of a criminal suspect and the fact that he ran from a cop. Though Warren wasn't caught with any contraband, he was charged with possession of an unlicensed gun found near the place of his arrest.

This decision overturned Warren's conviction. It was hailed as momentous progress for minorities in America by the American Civil Liberties Union and as a disappointing ruling which is "heavily tainted" against police by Boston's police commissioner.