The highest court in Massachusetts on Tuesday threw out a gun conviction against a Boston man in a ruling that says black men who flee when approached by police may be reacting to racial profiling rather than trying to hide criminal activity.
In its ruling, the Supreme Judicial Court found that Boston police had "far too little information" to stop Jimmy Warren after seeing him and another black man walking in Boston's Roxbury neighborhood about 30 minutes after they received a report of a home break-in in 2011.
Police had received only a vague description of three black males wearing dark clothing and hooded sweatshirts seen leaving the home. Warren ran when police approached him. After a foot chase, an officer arrested him in a backyard. He was charged with unlawful possession of a firearm after a handgun was found on the front lawn.
The SJC found that police did not have a reasonable suspicion to stop Warren and his friend, noting that an officer's hunch is not enough. The court cited a report by the Boston Police Department and an ACLU study that found black men were disproportionately stopped and frisked by Boston police between 2007 and 2010. The court said black men in Boston who flee when approached by police does not necessarily indicate that they are guilty of a crime.
"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," Justice Geraldine Hines wrote for the court in the unanimous opinion.
"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 court vacated Warren's conviction.
Boston Police released a statement Tuesday night saying in part, "For the court to consider studies that were never introduced into evidence or offered into the record is concerning. At the very least, the court should have heard from the experts who compiled and analyzed the data. We will continue to consult with the district attorney's office moving forward."
Warren's lawyer did not immediately return a call seeking comment.