The state Supreme Court in Massachusetts has ruled that black men may be justified at times to flee police.
In a unanimous ruling yesterday, the high court threw out a gun-related conviction of a man who fled police as the officers were investigating a break-in. The justices said police didn’t have the right to stop Jimmy Warren on Dec 18, 2011, in the first place.
The description given of the three suspects was, “black man in a black hoodie…or in dark clothing.” Some legal pundits are arguing this is just too vague a description.
Officers approached Warren and another man walking near a park, when the two men ran. Warren was later arrested and during a subsequent search, police found a gun in a nearby yard. Warren was charged with “unlawful possession of a firearm and later convicted.”
The fact that Warren ran away, the justices said, shouldn’t be used against him. The court noted that state law “gives individuals the right to not speak to police and even walk away if they aren’t charged with anything.” The justices also said when an individual does flee from police– it doesn’t necessarily mean the person is guilty.
The court ruled that the history of racial profiling within the Boston Police Dept. gave Warren reason to flee. The police commissioner said the court ruling relied too heavily on an ACLU report that is “unreliable.”
“The report is heavily tainted against the police department,” said Commissioner Bill Evans. Prosecutors are asking for a re-hearing in the case, possibly because the court based its decision on outdated statistics.
A retired judge who spoke with WBUR says, at issue here is the fact that a black man might run, not because he’s guilty, but because he’s afraid of being racially profiled.
Judge Nancy Gertner (Ret.) says this latest ruling may force courts to put in context all these national stories we are hearing about. It may also force police departments to rethink their practices because they may risk losing the evidence they’re trying to obtain in the first place. One of the concerns about police shootings, she said, was that the numbers of police encounters with young African American men are very high.
If they don’t have enough to stop someone, officers sometimes “push the envelope” to see what the person will do, she said.
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