Mixed Reaction In Boston After Mass. High Court Cites Racial Profiling In Policing

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Local officials are expressing mixed reactions after the Supreme Judicial Court threw out the gun conviction of a man in Boston Tuesday.

The court said police didn't have the right to stop Jimmy Warren, even though he fled. The court also said black men may have a legitimate reason to flee police because of earlier findings of racial profiling in the Boston Police Department.

In its ruling, the state's highest court pointed to data that indicated that black men in Boston are disproportionately stopped by police — and that may cause black men to run from police, to avoid being profiled and not necessarily to hide guilt.

"This legitimizes what we have known is the case as black folks what we experience. These things are real, they cannot be summarily dismissed," said Boston City Councilor-at-Large Ayanna Pressley. "As a black woman, I've certainly been profiled throughout my life and [I'm] not exempt from that profiling simply because I’m an elected official."

Pressley said racial profiling and implicit bias exist everywhere, not just within law enforcement — but it's important to address those issues given high profile police shootings across the country.

"If we’re truly serious about strengthening the relationship between police and community, we’ve got no choice but to take this ruling seriously and to implement meaningful reforms," she said.

Some other city leaders agree. City Councilor Tito Jackson called the court ruling "groundbreaking." He said the decision should guide how young men of color are treated in the legal system.

"These broad sweeping stops that allow people to stop individuals in a large geographic area with no other information other than they are looking for a couple of black men in a primarily black neighborhood, that is unacceptable," Jackson said.

In its ruling, the court agreed and said there wasn't enough reasonable suspicion to stop Warren because the description of the suspects — black men in dark clothing and hoodies — for the break-in they were investigating was too vague.

Jackson said the ruling shows leadership in the state "in terms of how we begin to deal with the school-to-prison pipeline and the disproportionality in terms of the number of black and Latino males who occupy our prisons."

But the mayor and police commissioner said they don't expect the ruling to change how Boston officers do their jobs.

Commissioner Bill Evans said the city's officers do not target people because of their race.

"We do a super job out there, we have a low homicide rate. I stand 100 percent behind what they do," Evans said. "We target the kids who are driving the violence in the neighborhoods that are violent."

Mayor Marty Walsh said police need to be able to carry out their duties.

"If they can’t pull a car over and take generally guns out of cars and guns off the streets and potential people who cause harm or are going to cause harm, that’s something that I think the public would be up against," Walsh said.

Walsh said though he's disappointed by the ruling, he plans to review the court's decision to determine the city's next steps.

This segment aired on September 21, 2016.


Headshot of Zeninjor Enwemeka

Zeninjor Enwemeka Senior Business Reporter
Zeninjor Enwemeka is a senior business reporter who covers business, tech and culture as part of WBUR's Bostonomix team, which focuses on the innovation economy.



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