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Putting their judicial money where their mouths are: The Supreme Judicial Court and racial justice

In an unusual statement yesterday, the seven justices of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court yesterday called on their fellow judges and lawyers to do something about "the inequity and injustice that is the legacy of slavery, of Jim Crow, and of the disproportionate incarceration of African-Americans."

Although they included themselves in that admonition, the justices, in fact, have been doing something about that, through their decisions in recent years, such as:

Commonwealth vs. Warren, 2016: A cop's hunch and the fact a black man was wearing a hoodie were not enough probable cause to detain and search him - even if he did try to run away from an officer:

We do not eliminate flight as a factor in the reasonable suspicion analysis whenever a black male is the subject of an investigatory stop. However, in such circumstances, flight is not necessarily probative of a suspect's state of mind or consciousness of guilt. Rather, the finding that black males in Boston are disproportionately and repeatedly targeted for FIO 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. 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.

Commonwealth vs. Robertson, 2018: The court ordered a new trial for a black man convicted of murder because the judge in the case did not question whether the prosecution was using its allowed challenges to prospective jurors to exclude blacks. Also see Commonwealth vs. Fuentes, Commonwealth vs. Jones and Commonwealth vs. Ortega, both of which involved similar jury-selection issues.

Commonwealth vs. Williams, 2019: Believing the justice system is biased against black men was not enough reason to exclude a possible juror from a black man's trial, that a juror with "firmly held beliefs shaped by her life experiences," can still be part of a fair trial, the court ruled.

Commonwealth vs. Meneus, 2017: Being one of several black men standing on a corner after gunfire was not by itself enough reason to frisk one of them.

Boston Police Department vs. Civil Service Commission, 2019: The Boston Police Department was told to stop testing prospective promotion candidates with a hair-based cocaine test that black officers had long said produced false positives for them.

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Comments

It's worthy and respectful what the courts are doing. But the biggest change possible is legislative. You're not going to convince the police to not be racist but you can change the laws which govern them.

Enough with the statements and protests. Beacon Hill, go back to work and do your job. Change the laws which regulate the police so that cops which abuse their power don't stay police. For once in your elected lives, stand up to the unions. Cops like being cops. If there was a real risk of them loosing their jobs for crossing the line, they would't take such liberties. (Boston PD is better than most but "better" is not the same as great.)

Baker, be as assertive with the state police as you are with COVID.

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Voting closed 27

Boston City Council has so little power but they do approve the budget. They spend so much time on issues so much less important than this one.

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Isn't it their job to interpret the laws passed by legislation, not try to shape them?
Everything they say could be true but if a case with a cop as a defendant is heard by them and it has any racial aspect to it the Defense lawyer could make a case that the justices are not impartial to her client.

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They are interpreting the law, including the US Constitution, which protects against unreasonable search and seizure, and the Fourteenth Amendment's guarantee of equal protection under the law.

You know whose job it really isn't to shape the law, or over-rule the legislature? The police.

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Is how I see it.
Saying more black people are in jail because of the legacy of slavery and jim crow is an opinion.
Black lawyers and black judges and black jurors help find black people guilty or not guilty every day in our judicial system.
That opinion may be correct or incorrect but if it's ever used as a defense a defense lawyer could reasonably think the SJC has their back. .

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Saying more black people are in jail because of the legacy of slavery and jim crow is an opinion.

Read what they wrote again. Out loud helps. No snark intended. I read that section out loud again to be sure.

We must recognize and confront the inequity and injustice that is the legacy of slavery, of Jim Crow, and of the disproportionate incarceration of African-Americans, and challenge the untruths and unfair stereotypes about African-Americans that have been used to justify or rationalize their repression.

They said recognize and confront these things: A. inequities, and B. injustices...

Which are the legacy of:
1. Slavery
2. Jim Crow
3. The disproportionate incarceration of African Americans.

They didn't draw a line saying one thing caused another at all. If we make that jump of logic, it's on us, not them. They're justices of the oldest court of appeal in the Americas. You can expect they say what they mean and mean what they say. Not more, not less.

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Thanks

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