Imagine being with your friends, and then a patrol car pulls up. You and your friends know of the police brutality going on in the world, but you don't know exactly what to do.
This exact scenario happened in 2010 in Boston when police officers were alerted of a break-in near Roxbury and got a description of three black males, one wearing a red hoodie, another wearing dark clothing and a third wearing a black hoodie.
When I read this description of the men, I looked outside and saw about four black males who fit the description. It reminded me of how many of those men could have been stopped, and how vague the description was. This vagueness contributes to the disproportionate stoppings of black men and women.
Boston is an open and diverse city. The mayor constantly speaks on the police department’s improvements in racial relations, but the statistics don't show it. According to statistics reports by the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts, 63.3 percent of civilian stops in Boston from 2007-2010 were black people. That statistic would make sense if blacks made up the majority of Boston, but that isn't the case. At the time when these statistics were captured, blacks made up less than a quarter of Boston's population, yet made up more than half the civilian stops.
The amount of civilian encounters are disproportionate among the races, and the Boston Police Department gave no justification for the disproportionate stops. In fact, according to the ACLU, 75 percent of stops weren't justified, with only “investigate person” written on the police report. Furthermore, only 2.5 percent of stops resulted in finding contraband.
An incident recently took place where five teens were almost arrested for trespassing and breaking and entering. I spoke to two of the teens, Mattapan 15-year-olds Jamie Giovanni and Lexi Turotcher. They were playing around, one of them with a large rock in her hand, when a police car pulled up. One woman in a police uniform and another male police officer out of uniform directed the teens not to run. They cooperated with the officers, telling them their names and addresses, but then something weird happened with the male cop and the male in the group.
“The boy in our group was black and wore all black and had his hoodie on,” Giovanni said. “We were asked different questions compared to him. They asked him if he had weed or any weapons on him. He said no.” Strangely, the female holding the rock was not asked about drugs or weapons. This again shows the amount of pressure that is put on black males when they encounter police.
Now how can we repair this system? First, we can start by making all data more public. Also, we need to be able to read more reasoning for the stops rather than just “investigating persons”—what was the point of investigating them? What made you pursue them? Did you see them commit a crime? Finally, we need to make sure citizens are constantly reminded of their rights. If they’re asked to be searched, they need to know that they are not legally obligated to answer any questions form a cop without reasonable cause. These are all just beginning steps in changing a system that has been broken for awhile.