Yesterday we joined the NAACP Legal Defense & Educational Fund (LDF) to file an amicus brief before the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, urging our state’s highest court to recognize that an individual’s identity as a Black teenager affects whether he would feel “free to leave” when confronted by the police.
Tykorie Evelyn, a seventeen-year-old Black male, was approached on the sidewalk in Boston’s Roxbury neighborhood by two police officers in a patrol car. The officers trailed him for the length of a football field in their cruiser and tried multiple times to question him, but he repeatedly declined to engage. At that point, one of the officers exited the vehicle to continue the encounter. The lower court nonetheless held that a reasonable person in Mr. Evelyn’s position would feel free to leave the interaction with police, which meant he was not “seized,” and his protections under the federal and state constitutions did not apply. In reaching this conclusion, the lower court did not consider how Mr. Evelyn’s identity as a Black seventeen-year-old male would affect his perspective with respect to this police encounter.
“It is imperative for courts to consider the context of police encounters, and this context must include the years of discriminatory policing experienced by Black youth, as well as their friends and family, which unquestionably shape how they reasonably feel during interactions with police,” said Jin Hee Lee, LDF’s Senior Deputy Director of Litigation. “In order to give real meaning to federal and state constitutional protections, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court must determine the moment of seizure from the perspective of how a reasonable person would actually experience a police encounter. ”
“The Court should recognize that Black teenagers experience interactions with police very differently than adults or their white peers.” – Jin Hee Lee
“In Boston and elsewhere, young Black men growing up in segregated, high poverty communities experience police suspicion and disrespect as a default. These negative experiences are especially acute when such communities are labeled high crime areas and then saturated with police, further entrenching racial disparities in the criminal legal system,” said David J. Harris, CHHIRJ Managing Director.
“Our Supreme Judicial Court has already recognized the impact of this kind of policing in Boston and the ‘recurring indignity of being racially profiled.’ As embodied in that decision, equal justice requires taking the reality of policing into account in the seizure standard.” – David J. Harris
LDF and CHHIRJ urge the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court to acknowledge the unique experiences and perspectives of a reasonable Black teenage boy that may cause him to feel compelled to stay during a police encounter. Read the brief: