Black men who flee when stopped by police in the state of Massachusetts may have a valid reason for doing so and should not be deemed suspicious, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court has ruled.
As reported by NPR, the court's judgement stems from a 2011 case involving Boston resident Jimmy Warren. He and a friend were stopped by police who were investigating a break-in and were seeking three suspects wearing "a red hoodie," a "dark hoodie," and "dark clothing." When police approached Warren, who was wearing dark clothing, and his friend, both men fled. The pair was later apprehended and an unlicensed .22 caliber handgun was found on Warren's person.
Warren was convicted of unlawful possession of a firearm, but the charge was thrown out in the ruling earlier this week. The court found that police did not have enough specific information on which to justify approaching Warren, and the fact that Warren fled from the police should not be used against him. According to Massachusetts state law, a person has the right to not speak with police and to walk away if they are not being charged with a crime.
Key to the ruling were a 2014 report from the ACLU of Massachusetts and Boston police's own data which found that city police stopped black people disproportionately. The court's justices wrote that the Boston Police Department's history of profiling black people could be a factor in a person's decision to flee. "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," read the decision.
Matthew Segal, legal director of the ACLU of Massachusetts, celebrated the ruling in his response: "The state’s highest court, in talking about people of color, it’s saying that their lives matter and under the law, their views matter. 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." Boston Police Commissioner Bill Evans called the court's decision "heavily tainted against the police department."
Read the court's ruling here.