When Freddie Gray took off running through his Baltimore neighborhood, police officers made a split-second decision to give chase, setting in motion his death in custody and rioting in the streets. The Associated Press says that fleeing from police is not, by itself, illegal in the U.S., and the Supreme Court has made clear that in safe neighborhoods, people not suspected of criminal activity can ignore a police officer who approaches them, even to the point of walking away. Courts have set a different standard for places where street crime is common, ruling that police can chase, stop and frisk people if their location contributes to a suspicion of criminal activity.
This double standard is having a major impact as more black men die in encounters with police. Many have been shot or tackled while trying to flee. The court rulings justifying police chases in high-crime areas where many African Americans live are contributing to a dangerous divide between police and citizens, said Ezekiel Edwards, director of the Criminal Law Reform Project at the American Civil Liberties Union. “Folks who are going to be the most intimidated or scared of the police are the same people in places where the Supreme Court has said, ‘if you run from police, that’s suspicion,'” he said. Edwards contends that unprovoked flight shouldn’t justify a chase: “If you can walk away, you can run away. It shouldn’t matter the speed at which you move away.”