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Boston cops stop and frisk a newspaper editor in Roxbury

Yawu Miller

Update: Miller reports he was stopped outside the courthouse by cops who had never heard of his newspaper and because they thought he was photographing the nearby B-2 police station.

Yawu Miller, senior editor at the Bay State Banner, which covers Boston's black community, reports he was stopped and frisked at Roxbury District Court today:

I was at Rox. District Court, shooting photos. As I left, I was approached by about 7 BPD officers. They FIOed me! 1st time in more than 20 years! I thought the gray hair disqualified me. Apparently not!

A report on this "field interrogation and observation" now goes into a BPD database.

Miller adds:

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Comments

What's a FIO?

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In other words, stop and frisk for any reason the cops think is okay.

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Field Interrogation and Observation.

In Miller's case and other similar ones, it's when a cop stops somebody and talks to them, maybe even frisks them, but doesn't arrest them. The cop then fills out a report that goes into a BPD database - which also includes other observations made by cops of people of interest (so and so was spotted at such and such a location).

You can browse the latest, redacted entries (which go through December, 2019). One example of an entry:

Officers were on directed patrol in the area of Allerton Street. Officers observed XXX walk off Peirson Street and turn in the directions of Officers. Upon seeing Officers, Mr. XXX shoved his hands inside his hoodie, immediately reversed directions, and walked away from Officers towards Rusfield Street. Officers stopped Mr. XXX at the above location. A pat frisked revealed no weapons. FIO'd and Released.

BPD had stopped releasing the data for several years, but earlier this year the City Council basically subpoenaed it and the department put it online.

As WGBH reported: Black People Made Up 70 Percent Of Boston Police Stops, Department Data Show.

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What must a person do* under a FIO? What can they decline to do?

* And yes, I understand that a police officer might not take kindly to "knowing one's rights" in a FIO, and I understand that police violence, like all things, in subject to bias.

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You don't have to answer any questions.

MA even has a SJC ruling from long ago that says you don't have to identify yourself on foot.

Two things you say to the police are "Am I being detained?" and/or "Am I free to go?"

If detained, say nothing.
If free to go, go.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Terry_v._Ohio is the standard for these kinds of stops.

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Yawu Miller is one of the best reporter in town when it comes to exposing City malfunction and corruption.

Either none of these 7 cops knew who he was, showing how little they know about the City they are policing, or they wanted to tell him something. Either explanation is troubling but not surprising.

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Just because you may know someone does not mean you get a free pass all the time at a courthouse or police station.

Take Jack Ruby for example. I'll let you do that homework.

Many courthouses in the city have had to take measures to protect witnesses and even jurors from being accosted on site or harassment or intimidation after proceedings. That is why many district courthouses have rules that ban cell phones on the premises. Not so much because they are a distraction but because they double as a camera, and there is concern that people with ill-will at heart will take the pictures of witnesses and jurors and use them for harassment and intimidation at a later time.

This may be a well-known journalist but if you look at it as someone taking photos around a courthouse that has such restrictions for the protection of people in place, it takes on a new perspective.

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First, a caveat: We don't yet know how this all went down - Miller writes he was stopped and frisked, but not what led up to that. But come on - he's been a reporter in Boston for more than 20 years now; he's not just some rando off the street. And he wasn't just questioned (I mean, even I've been questioned, at least by court officers); he was surrounded by seven cops and frisked.

But you're right: Some (all?) district courthouses in Boston have restrictions on things like phones for just the reason you cite.

However, there's an exception for reporters - they are allowed to bring phones, computers and even actual cameras into the building, under SJC Rule 1:19 (which I'm familiar with since I was on the sub-committee that drafted the rule).

You do need a judge's or clerk's permission to snap away during proceedings in a courtroom, but since courtrooms are still closed (as opposed to the courthouses, which re-opened for limited business just yesterday) , I'm thinking that was not the issue here.

Also, I see that neither the Banner nor Miller are on the list of media organizations/reporters who have a formal court-system press registration. But that's where somebody's knowledge of who Miller is would have come in: The Banner's been around for a long time, and again, so has Miller. Would a reporter from the Globe have been frisked?

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Reading the comments on his tweet - he says they stopped him because he was taking photos of B2 as the reason for the frisk.

As I posted below, pictures of B-2 are available to anyone with a couple seconds on Google. The idea that taking a picture of a public building is inherently suspicious is completely ridiculous.

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Try either beyond "we limit their IQ" stupid or storm trooper RESPECT MAH AUHTORITAY.

Fucking Google Maps and Streetview!

Facts. Any public place/building can be photographed, recorded, for any reason, or none at all. Same with videoing the cops.. they may not like it, but 6its legal. They may tell you that its illegal, bug it idbt, unless posted otherwise

You write-

But come on - he's been a reporter in Boston for more than 20 years now; he's not just some rando off the street.

You've been a reporter of some sort for much longer. Are you really claiming that all cops know who you are?

This is not to say that the cops are in the right. Not by a long shot. But it's not like he's a guy everyone in Boston knows. I'd venture to bet that most print reporters in Boston are quite anonymous.

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He wasn't doing anything illegal or even suspicious.

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Key in on the last paragraph.

I agree, Adam and I have been in the same room several times and I couldn't pick him out if you asked me too and I've been reading this site for many years now. From my desk I could probably google him and say, "Ah, yes. That's who he is!" But I really have no clue what he looks like without looking him up online, and apparently until now, I wasn't that curious.

Add to that masks and I can barely recognize even some of my neighbors. It totally smacks of, "Don't you know who I am."

That said, I really disagree with much of the FIO policy, the secrecy around them, and find them a slippery slope ripe for abuse.

If I see anyone at a courthouse taking pictures, the immediate assumption to me would be that they were a reporter. But hey, it's not like we pay these people to make logical decisions, right?

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photography on public property is not a crime.

Photographers' Rights
Taking photographs and video of things that are plainly visible in public spaces is a constitutional right—and that includes transportation facilities, the outside of federal buildings, and police and other government officials carrying out their duties.

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= Lemme see your papers...
FYI the courts are closed... no trials going on
So taking photos down Dudley is suspicious but you can literally drink a 5th of vodka and shoot heroin in the park right in front of the station. Yawu should have traded that camera for a needle and he would not be harassed.

Humans in general deserve the benefit of the doubt. Cops in groups, not so much. Seven cops descending on a citizen during the day, absent any kind of unrest is not some silly mix-up.

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And why seven Cops? He had not done a single thing to cause suspicion, except his job.
Was that the reason?

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ANTIFA Super Soldiers are everywhere. Didn’t you see what happens in Buffalo when that alleged octogenarian had Spy Tech gear used to scramble steal signals police communication equipment? The police have to be diligent about people taking photos of public property because you never know who’s gonna do a 9/11 on B-2.

https://youtu.be/cr-nJ0GrXfI

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Does the MSP, MBTA and all the other alphabet agencies collect information on passengers at the airport and subway stations?Do they share this information with ICE?

I don’t see the reason given for the FIO, any good cop will have no problem telling you why they’ve approached you. Was it an issue of who was he taking pictures of? I know some victims identities are protected by the Commonwealth and some people take pictures of victims for intimidation purposes, not saying this was the case. There are definitely details being left out.

A long-standing tradition in American journalism - one that is instilled in basic journalism ethics courses across the country - is that the reporter must not be the story. Reporters are merely observers, and as such, are required to keep views and biases out of the story they’re covering. Otherwise, the story that’s delivered to the reader becomes skewed. That all-important element of public trust slowly erodes. -- Tod Robberson, Editorial Page Editor for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, February 28, 2016

While I have no doubt there was interaction between Mr. Miller and the BPD, what led to the confrontation? More specifically, did Mr. Miller do anything to warrant the confrontation or are we to believe police singled him out for no reason at all?

In looking at the Bay State Banner website just now (I didn't realize it was still around) the extreme-left, anti-police, anti-President Trump viewpoint is evident. Mr. Miller tweets the term "F.I.O." with familiarity even though most of the public (and many police) have no idea what the abbreviation stands for. It's often refreshing here that even liberal commenters at UHub regularly praise Boston Police for their restraint. Did seven Boston Police officers uncharacteristically "snap" on Mr. Miller or is there more to the story? Since Mr. Miller's smiling picture is shown, what did the officers look like? Black, White, Asian? Let's stop the circa-1692 Salem style rush to judgment. Let's also ask reporters to abide by the St. Louis Post Editor Robberson's cogent advice before the media loses the remaining 11% that still trust them.

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Regular readers will be shocked to discover that this number is complete bullshit:

before the media loses the remaining 11% that still trust them.

The number reported in recent polls is that around 41% - 50% trust the media:

https://news.gallup.com/poll/267047/americans-trust-mass-media-edges-dow...

https://morningconsult.com/2020/04/22/media-credibility-cable-news-poll/

Lower than in the past, but not that surprising since our fascist president has been calling them the "enemy of the people" since before he got elected.

It's still way higher than the number of people who trust your Daddy Trump to tell the truth:

https://www.axios.com/poll-trump-coronavirus-trust-2ca5334a-c403-46d3-aa...

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You provide a wonderful insight into your mind. To set you straight: Being aware of the term "FIO" or other details of policing shouldn't make someone suspect. If you are a victim, you are a victim. I recognize that your President doesnt seem to be bothered by crimes against reporters (Khashoggi), but in most democracies protection of free press is considered important.

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That quote means that the story should be "The police stopped and questioned O-Fish-L" rather than "I, Vicki, was surprised to see the police stop and question O-Fish-L." *That* story is about O-Fish-L and the police.

It doesn't mean that "seven police officers stopped and questioned a reporter" isn't news, or that it would be "unethical" for a news story to report when the police do that.

If we're looking at bias, your idea that seven cops stopping and frisking a reporter on his way out of court must have a good reason--that the only people who get a presumption of innocence are the police--is at least as biased.

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While I have no doubt there was interaction between Mr. Miller and the BPD, what led to the confrontation? More specifically, did Mr. Miller do anything to warrant the confrontation or are we to believe police singled him out for no reason at all?

Your overweening affection for all things cop is well known, as is the Trumpian cut of your blinders. Even so, even you can't be unaware that cops have been known to confront people for nothing more than standing while Black. So your question is either a semi-honest one, prompted by willful ignorance and bigotry, or an entirely disingenuous and intellectually dishonest one, prompted by a servile adoration of all things cop. Which is it?

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It's amazing, Fish, I can always tell which comments are yours before I read the username because they're always so outrageous and completely off the wall. I don't know how you consistently get everything so wrong, but it's truly a gift.

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Fish - you don't get paid by the word.

Brevity is a weapon. Wield it like BPD Cpt. Danilecki wields pepper spray - frequently and fearlessly.

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... Uhub, so I'm thinking Adam is the reporter, no?

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how do those boots taste?

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Do you really want the first thing people ask to be "well, what did he do to deserve that"?

But I guess the orange smudges mix with the black boot polish to form a nice tiger effect on your lips, right?

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And some cops don't know what an FIO is? Maybe if the "cop" was a forest ranger (who are LEOs).

As usual you are loading on the caca. Are you a relative of the Trump family?

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TA DA! You may not know what a F.I.O. is, but 85% citizens of color does....Captain O-?. This is our reality. You can just be walking to the store, your grandma’s, to church. They’ll just pull up 50mph, jam the brakes, jump out, pull guns out, and ask, “where are you coming from“? This is “our” reality, our “norm”. I’m a 44 year old married father of 3. It can/will happen ANYTIME!

"I though the grey hair disqualified me"

This seems like a troubling toss way line. I get very uneasy when people tell us we should treat everyone the same and then pick out reasons why they themselves should be treated different.

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So I took that as just an attempt to process what happened. But then, I'm a journalist, so what do I know?

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original quote: I thought the gray hair disqualified me. Apparently not!

Among the Black people FIOed(Interrogation is the word!), Mr. Miller thought that he had aged out of the age group subject to suspicion. He does not think he is special because he is gray haired. He thought he would be less subject to being suspicious. You know, the Black male under 30 with the belt line of pants around mid thigh.

I'll give you something more 'troubling,' Palestinian males above a certain age are allowed to go places that their younger selves were not allowed to go to in parts of Israel. Youths up to the age of 40?, 50? are considered to be the ones to "act up." If you are middle aged and up you are considered by security gatekeepers less likely there to do harm.

So the 7 officers are like the liquor stores that have signs that declare: we card Grandma.
[Then we have the person who looks to be of senior citizen discount coffee age who is offended when asked if he or she, usually a vain she, wants said discount.]

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This is about cops treating community members like they are in charge of us and not the other way around.

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With minimal details. Let all jump to conclusions!

I've updated the original post accordingly.

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Photography is not a crime.

I see we've moved on from the "You can't photograph this because 9/11" bullshit excuse for stopping photographers.

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Turns out if someone wants a picture of the B-2 building, there's a whole bunch of them an easy search away:

https://www.google.com/maps/uv?hl=en&pb=!1s0x89e37a300b0cd057%3A0x230655...

I expect to see a warrant out for Sundar Pichai and the rest of the Google Maps team any day now.

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"You can't photograph airplanes from this public location, because 9/11"

Punch in the tail number of most large airplanes and you'll find galleries of really well made photographs of them. Most of my experience of being treated like I was in the wrong for being a photographer has been around airplanes.

I think I may even have a photo or two of B-2 that I took while covering a murder scene across the street a number of years ago.

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Anyone who lives in Roxbury knows what the Banner is. Anyone who even passes through Roxbury has seen their newsboxes, which are plentiful.

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Taking pictures of a public building in the middle of a dense city should not be grounds to detain someone.

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My guess is that the cop knew perfectly well what the Banner was, and asked "What's that?" to express his disdain for it.

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I find it hard to believe you could work in Roxbury and not know what the Banner is. It's been in circulation since 1965. It's free and in darn near every store in the area.

They built a new B-2 station. It isn't next the Court House anymore. If you wanted pictures of the police station, you don't stand by the Court House to do it.
This is why cops have a reputation for being bastards. There is no reason to hassle someone for taking photos, unless that is what you enjoy. And your job gives you the authority to do it.