The Rationality of Running Away

One question I hear and read often is “why do (black) people run away from the police?” Implicit in that question is the idea that running away is pointless, that you’ll be caught anyway. Fortunately, we have sociologists who study this stuff (boldface mine):

Those who interact rarely with the police may assume that running away after a police stop is futile. Worse, it could lead to increased charges or to violence. While the second part is true, the first is not. In my first eighteen months on 6th Street, I observed a young man running after he had been stopped on 41 different occasions. Of these, 8 involved men fleeing their houses during raids; 23 involved men running after being stopped while on foot (including running after the police had approached a group of people of whom the man was a part); 6 involved car chases; and 2 involved a combination of car and foot chases, where the chase began by car and continued with the man getting out and running.

In 24 [out of 41] of these cases, the man got away. In 17 of the 24, the police didn’t appear to know who the man was and couldn’t bring any charges against him after he had fled. Even in cases where the police subsequently charged him with fleeing or other crimes, the successful getaway allowed the man to stay out of jail longer than he might have if he’d simply permitted the police to cuff him and take him in.

….Running wasn’t always the smartest thing to do when the cops came, but the urge to run was so ingrained that sometimes it was hard to stand still.

Add to this the belief that many outstanding warrants are illegitimate–which in many cases seems to be correct (boldface mine):

We now know that there’s about 2 million warrants that have been reported voluntarily to the database, and leaving a huge number that haven’t been reported. About 60% of these warrants are not for new crimes, but for technical violations of parole, unpaid court fees, unpaid child support, traffic fines, curfew violations, court fees. And it’s this group of people that are terrified. If they’re stopped by the cops, any of these reasons is enough to bring them in, to get them trapped into the system again….

If you’re part of this class, it means you don’t go to the hospital when you’re sick. You’re wary of visiting friends in the hospital, or attending their funerals. Driving your kid to school can be daunting. You don’t have a driver’s license or I.D. Most of the time, you can’t seek legal employment. You can’t get help from the government. It comes from, partly, growing up in a neighborhood where you’ve watched your uncles and brothers go to jail, and your aunts and mom entangled in the court system without ever getting free.

…In a poll I did of the women [living in the four block radius of 6th Street], 67% said that they’d been pressured by the police to provide information on a male family member or partner in the last 3 years….So you’re really talking about a policing system that hinges on turning families against each other and sowing a lot of suspicion and distrust. It’s very ironic that people blame the breakdown of black family life on the number of black men behind bars when the policing strategies that put them there are exactly about breaking those family bonds.

If you believe that the justice system is not just, then the decision to obey law enforcement simply becomes a cost-benefit analysis decision, not a moral or ethical one: running away is making the best of a bad situation.

Something most non-poor people never think about.

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1 Response to The Rationality of Running Away

  1. Min says:

    Thanks for posting this. 🙂 Very informative.

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