In a large number of police brutality incidents and police murders, the victim is not attacking police but is attempting to run away from them. This is a simple act of self-preservation, that may be risky, but it is entirely understandable and well within a person’s rights.
Unfortunately, the vast majority of Americans believe that running away from police is an offense that justifies murder, or any other type of violent response that the officer may choose.
People call it “stupid” or “wrong” to run away from police, but who in their right mind would stick around knowing that they are about to be kidnapped for a victimless “crime,” taken to a filthy dungeon and eventually robbed for thousands of dollars when they are finally released?
Running away from the police is no different than running away from a mugger or a violent criminal. It may not be wise to run from a mugger if you don’t have any chance of getting away. It may be the better decision to hand over all your money and hope for the best, but if you have a good chance of running and getting away, you should take that opportunity. This same rule applies to police. If a person thinks that they have the ability to get away without being apprehended than that is absolutely the smartest thing for them to do.
It is also important to point out that the vast majority of people who run from the police are not taking part in any violent crimes or crimes against property. Most people who attempt to evade police are simple drug users or people involved in the black market, who should not even be bothered by police in the first place.
Although it may be written into law, police do not have a moral right to impede a person’s freedom of movement. If the person being pursued by police has not harmed another person or their property, then it is the police who are now acting unjustly.
With that being said, if a police tells a non-violent person to stop traveling freely, that person has every right to run, just as they have the right to run from a mugger. However, it is still important for the person to assess whether or not they actually have a chance of getting away because if they get caught, the violence from the police will be far more severe. Again, these same rules apply to the common mugger.
While you certainly have the moral right to protect yourself by fleeing those who mean you harm, it is important to note that running from cops can and often will result in a severe and violent reaction from the pursuing officer(s). For this reason, most legal experts advise against leading police on a pursuit. Knowing the law and flexing your rights to beat them at their own game can be equally as effective as escape and reduces the risk of police violence.
In her book, On the Run: Fugitive Life in an American City, Alice Goffmann chronicles the six years she spent immersed in the Philadelphia neighborhood of “6th Street.” In an interview with Alternet, Goffman explains why people choose to run from police:
It’s a fact in America that in these poorer communities—and in largely African-American neighborhoods like the one I was in—you’re much more likely to encounter a police officer. The level of police presence is just off the charts compared to similar white neighborhoods. So you have the increased likelihood of interaction, and the high probability that that interaction will not be good. Even if there’s no arrest, there can still be a detention, a search, whatever, and who knows how long that’s going to last? It means you won’t be home to dinner tonight. Maybe not even tomorrow. It makes you not only fearful of police contact, but also of the places where the police might go to find you—your girlfriend’s house, your kid’s school, your place of employment.
It is important that people stop putting police on a pedestal and treating them like they have different rights than the average citizen. They are simply human beings just like everyone else.
John Vibes is an author, researcher and investigative journalist who takes a special interest in the counter culture and the drug war. In addition to his writing and activist work he organizes a number of large events including the Free Your Mind Conference, which features top caliber speakers and whistle-blowers from all over the world. You can contact him and stay connected to his work at his Facebook page. You can find his 65 chapter Book entitled “Alchemy of the Timeless Renaissance” at bookpatch.com.