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Racial profiling part 1: How common a cause of false arrest?


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Imagine your frustration: After dealing with a traffic ticket, you’re heading back to your car when you realize you’ve lost your keys — and you have to get to work. A Good Samaritan offers to call a locksmith, but in the meantime you fiddle around, trying to break into your own car.

Is it suspicious for a 21-year-old to be trying to jimmy the lock on a 1984 Chevy, obviously inexpertly, right near the courthouse and in full daylight? Sure, but not very. Even the security guard who called 911 wasn’t convinced a crime was in progress, as he tried to make clear on the call.

He said the person didn’t appear to be armed. He said no one was in any immediate danger. “It may well possibly could be his,” he said of the car.

He also said the young man was black.

How should police respond to a report of an unarmed suspect in a property crime?

Police can’t just blindly rely on a 911 caller’s situation assessment. Legally, however, they can’t just assume every suspect is armed and dangerous, right?

The Good Samaritan had kindly paid for the locksmith, so the “suspect” was inside his car trying to start it when four CSPD officer arrived.

“All of a sudden, I get a knock on my door and it’s pretty abrupt,” the young man told the Colorado Springs Gazette. “At that point, with four guns around me and pointed all into my car, I turn around and I look and I see all four cops surrounding my car, two cop cars behind me and right then and there I’m fearful for my life.”

He opened the car door and was thrown to the ground and handcuffed. He didn’t dare be anything but utterly compliant for 20 to 25 minutes as the cops searched him — even though they had no reasonable suspicion that he was armed — and his backpack — also without legal justification.

“My mind was racing at 100 miles per hour. I’m scared for my life because they still have guns on me.”

He has no issue with the cops coming to investigate a potential car theft; that’s their job. But did they have to arrive like an armed mob, throw him to the ground and detain him? Couldn’t they have simply asked for his ID? In our next post, we’ll discuss the CSPD’s response.

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