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Smith Duggan Wins in Racial Profiling Case

Smith Duggan attorney Tom Herman successfully represented Emerson college professor Jabari Asim in dismissing charges by the City of Newton that he was operating a motor vehicle without a valid license. Prof. Asim was cited by Officer Gregory Helms after the officer said he saw a nervous-looking bald African-American man with glasses and a thick beard driving the car. However, the actual driver was Asim’s wife, Liana, a licensed driver who was out running errands and who was alone in the car at the time.  Prof. Asim does not drive.

Officer Helms testified in Newton District Court that he noticed the car’s driver giving him a “nervous” look and “turning his head,” so he ran the vehicle’s license plate through the state database and found that Asim’s license was “denied/nonrenewable”. He could not locate the car so he looked up Asim’s driver’s license photo and recognized  Asim as the driver.  Helm’s then sent a traffic citation to Asim’s home.

Smith Duggan presented over 20 pieces of evidence including Asim’s cellphone GPS records, eye witness statements from colleagues, and store receipts that proved Asim had spent the day in his office at Emerson College in downtown Boston.  His wife, Liana, was driving through Newton. Based on the evidence, the Court vacated the citation.

Asim, a prominent fiction and non-fiction author and also an NAACP newspaper editor, alleged the citation was motivated out of implicit racial bias.  “For a black man, you’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t,” Asim said. “If we look at the cop, it’s dangerous. If we look away from the cop, it’s dangerous. It’s a double-edged sword.”

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