Standing Against Police Bias & Profiling: Amicus Brief to the Supreme Judicial Court

Standing Against Police Bias and Profiling 

Boston, MA – Today, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Economic Justice filed a friend-of-the-court (amicus) brief in Massachusetts’ highest court, the Supreme Judicial Court, on behalf of more than a dozen prominent racial justice, immigrants’ rights, and LGBTQ organizations in a high-profile matter concerning police bias and racial profiling, Commonwealth v. Buckley.

The case concerns whether police officers can stop and search cars on a hunch that a crime has been committed – in the absence of sufficient evidence – by citing the driver for minor traffic violations that have little or no relation to the underlying reason for the stop and search.

Our brief argues strongly against police use of pretextual traffic stops in searching for evidence of other crimes.

“Extensive data confirms racial disparities in traffic stops in Boston and across Massachusetts. Unfettered pretextual stops are at the heart of these disparities,” said Oren Nimni, Civil Rights Fellow at the Lawyers’ Committee. “The Supreme Judicial Court should craft a new rule, informed by realities on the ground, to provide meaningful legal protection for vulnerable individuals in marginalized communities,” added Nimni.

As the brief argues, a 2004 study conducted by Northeastern University revealed large disparities across Massachusetts. In Boston, for example, 32% of citations were given to Black drivers, while only 13.7% of the Boston driving population is Black. More recently, according to the Boston Globe, of the nearly 15,000 individuals that Boston police observed, interrogated, or searched in 2016, almost 70% were Black. Data demonstrates similar disproportionality in stops conducted by the state police, and these findings are in line with data confirming similar statistical disparities nationally.

“This case has wide ranging implications for the rights of all drivers, and particularly for motorists of color, immigrants, and transgender individuals,” said Iván Espinoza-Madrigal, Executive Director of the Lawyers’ Committee. “Improper stops and searches result in the over-criminalization of people of color, immigrants, and other vulnerable individuals,” added Espinoza-Madrigal.

“Everyone should have the right to move freely in the Commonwealth without fear of being profiled based on their race or identity,” said Oren Sellstrom, Litigation Director of the Lawyers’ Committee. “We know that when rules are arbitrarily enforced, vulnerable individuals in marginalized communities feel the brunt of discriminatory enforcement,” added Sellstrom.

The brief was filed on behalf of 19 community and professional organizations: Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Economic Justice; Urban League of Eastern Massachusetts; Charles Hamilton Houston Institute for Race and Justice; Massachusetts Law Reform Institute; Union of Minority Neighborhoods; Boston Police Camera Action Team; GLBTQ Legal Advocates & Defenders; MassEquality; The Network/La Red; InterACT:Advocates for Intersex Youth; Theater Offensive; Greater Boston PFLAG; CentroPresente; Brazilian Worker Center; Justice At Work; Justice Resource Institute; Jewish Alliance for Law and Social Action; Massachusetts Association of Hispanic Attorneys; and Massachusetts Black Lawyers Association.

The involvement of organizations across diverse communities highlights the intense interest in fair and unbiased policing.

Oral argument in this case is scheduled for October 5, 2017.

Commonwealth v. Buckley (Amicus Brief) (FINAL FILED)