A case revolving around racial bias in police practices heads to the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court. Its decision will determine what constitutes a valid justification for police stops.
The case involves an arrest made on January 9, 2017. Then, two white police officers, Joseph Abasciano and Brian Garney, patroled the Roxbury/Dorchester area. That area features a history of violent crime.
Around 7:30 pm, shots rang out, leaving one victim critically injured. Abasciano and Garney began a search for possible suspects. At the same time, Tykorie Evelyn, a 17-year-old black man, walked through the neighborhood alone. When the two police officers encountered him, they pulled alongside Evelyn and requested to speak with him.
Officers characterized Evelyn as nervous and evasive, walking briskly and possibly hiding something from their view. They asked if Evelyn knew anything about the shooting in the area. When he replied no, they continued to follow him.
Based on his behavior, police records show, the officers determined Evelyn acted suspiciously enough to warrant a search. They exited their cruiser and Evelyn gave flight. They chased after him until he lay down near a parked car. Following, they arrested him and found a gun nearby.
Now, attorneys for Evelyn claim the officers illegally arrested and searched their client, citing racial bias.
Court to Decide if Racial Bias led to Arrest
The defense hinges on a conclusion regarding Evelyn’s behavior. Various legal experts, from NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund to Charles Hamilton Houston Institute for Race and Justice at Harvard Law School, argue in favor of Evelyn. They believe his behavior mirrors reasonable suspicions of police officers within the Black community. Therefore, his behavior did not suggest guilt or association with the nearby shooting.
Thus, stopping him becomes unwarranted.
The logic asks what a reasonable individual would do in similar circumstances. Evelyn’s defense argues the court must consider police practices. Since police disproportionately stop and frisk young Black men, Evelyn’s flight can reasonably be attributed to fears of racial profiling – it cannot be cited as evidence of guilt to justify his arrest.
The implications of the SJC’s ruling will likely impact police policy moving forward for all departments within the commonwealth.