This Court Decision Says Black Men Running from Police May Make Sense

September 21st 2016

Just days after an unarmed black man was shot and killed by police in Oklahoma, a Massachusetts high court said it may make sense that black men would run from the police, and it doesn't mean they're guilty.

On Tuesday, the Massachusetts Supreme Court threw out a gun conviction for Jimmy Warren for two important reasons: the Boston Police Department should have never stopped Warren in the first place, and Warren's decision to run away doesn't mean he was guilty.

WBUR News, a public radio news outlet in Boston, outlined Warren's case.

This is how Warren received a gun conviction.

After a report of a break-in, police officers were looking for three black men. Two of the suspects were described as wearing hoodies, and one had dark clothing. Officers saw Warren and another man walking in a park wearing dark clothing. When the officers approached the men, they ran but were caught. Officers found an unlicensed gun nearby and charged Warren with unlawful possession of a firearm, according to WBUR. He was later convicted.

However the Massachusetts Supreme Court found that the officers racially profiled Warren and therefore they should have never approached him in the first place.

"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 court also said that considering the Boston Police Department's track record of racially profiling black men, the fact that Warren fled did not mean he was guilty. The court cited a report by the American Civil Liberties Union that found the BPD targeted black and Latinos in "widespread racially biased" stops from 2007 to 2010. It also cited the BPD's own report that found blacks were more likely to be stopped than white people.

"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."

Some people on Twitter were discussing complying versus running, because black men who seemingly complied, like Philando Castile and Terence Crutcher, were shot and killed.

Black people are disproportionately more likely to be searched by police but less likely to have illegal materials on them than white people, according to The Washington Post. Native Americans, Black people, and Latinos are also more likely to be shot and killed by the police than white people, according to The Guardian.

RELATED: Here's How Many People Have Been Killed by Cops Since Kaepernick Spoke out About Police Reform

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