Police stops still focus on blacks

Last year, 70 percent of FIOs involved blacks; rate raises 4th Amendment concerns

Jule Pattison-Gordon | 9/7/2017, 6 a.m.
Black residents make up 25 percent of the city population, but in 2016 made up 70 percent of those targeted ...
Thierno Diallo, a 17-year-old, was stopped and searched by police while walking home. His story is not an uncommon one. Banner photo

Early this summer, Thierno Diallo, a 17-year-old, was walking home with his older brother after helping their father move items into a storage space in Dorchester. It was mid-morning, around 10 a.m. He was walking toward Roxbury Crossing, planning to drop by the bank on his way back. Police officers stopped the pair.

Diallo says the officers asked the brothers for their IDs. When he asked why, the officers insisted repeatedly, and proceeded to pat the brothers down and search their backpacks.

Diallo ultimately handed over his ID; the officers checked it and found no criminal record in their system. But his 23-year-old brother refused to provide ID without the officers providing justification. When the young men tried to leave, the officers followed, stopped them, and asked for both their IDs again, Diallo said. Finally, they called their father who advised them just to walk away, and this time, the officers let it be.

“They made us take off our bags to check us, and checked the bags, too,” Diallo said. “I was just thinking ‘Why? What made you think we had something on us?’ There was no reason. There was no probable cause.”

Diallo says in his own Hyde Park neighborhood officers do not tend to stop people trivially. There, a number of officers are from the area and know residents, he said. But now he tries to avoid the area where he was subjected to what he says was an unjustified search.

It was the first time such an incident had happened to Diallo — but accounts such as his are not uncommon.

Carl Williams, staff attorney for the ACLU of Massachusetts, said when the police stop people for reasons that seem based on race, not on reasonable suspicion that they have committed a crime, it reinforces a lack of trust and a sense that the police are not there to help all residents.

“Folks in the administration say, ‘How come folks in these neighborhoods aren’t telling us what happened and helping us solve crimes?’” Williams said. “Well, it’s because you searched their daughter last week. Because you pulled over their son. My personal view is that type of behavior makes it much more difficult for police to solve actual crimes being committed in our communities.”

Behind the disparities

Black residents make up 25 percent of the city population, but in 2016 made up 70 percent of those targeted by police street-level observation, stops or searches, according to an analysis from The Boston Globe. This is not a new trend: Boston Police Department field interrogation and observations, or FIOs, disproportionately involved black individuals during 2007-2010, when 63 percent of those subjected to FIOs were black, and during 2011-2014, when the proportion was 58.5 percent, according to ACLU and BPD statistics, respectively.

A police spokesperson told the Globe that FIOs are focused on areas of the city that experience higher rates of crime. (The BPD media relations office did not return phone calls for this story.) Officers said also that the racial disparity may be less than it appears, because they frequently stop, search, and observe the same individuals on multiple occasions. These individuals, they said, are certain people known to them as criminal offenders, usually as gang members.