A San Francisco lawmaker introduced an ordinance that would make it illegal to make a fraudulent, racially-motivated 911 call in response to a number of recent incidents in which white people have called the police on Black people who weren't doing anything wrong.
Supervisor Shamann Walton introduced the Caution Against Racially Exploitative Non-Emergencies, or CAREN Act, Tuesday, which will "make it illegal for people to contact law enforcement solely to discriminate on the basis of a person's race, ethnicity, religious affiliation, gender, sexual orientation or gender identity." The ordinance will also allow individuals harmed by these calls to sue for damages up to $1,000.
Racist 911 calls are unacceptable that's why I'm introducing the CAREN Act at today’s SF Board of Supervisors meeting. This is the CAREN we need. Caution Against Racially Exploitative Non-Emergencies. #CARENact #sanfrancisco
— Shamann Walton (@shamannwalton) July 7, 2020
"911 calls and emergency reports are not customer service lines for racist behavior, and using these for fraudulent reports based on the perceived threats of someone's race takes away emergency resources from actual emergencies," Walton said at a board of supervisors meeting. "Fraudulent emergency calls against people of color are a form of racial violence and should not be tolerated."
The ordinance's name appears to be a reference to the nickname "Karen" given to many white women seen calling the police on people of color in viral videos. Walton noted several of these incidents occurred in the Bay Area, including the videos of white women dubbed "Permit Patty" and "BBQ Becky" last year.
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In the first incident, a white woman in San Francisco called police about an 8-year-old girl selling bottled water outside her apartment building to raise money for a trip to Disneyland after her mom lost her job. In the second, another white woman called police on two black men for using a charcoal grill at a public park in Oakland.
Walton also mentioned more recent high profile cases, including that of Amy Cooper, the white woman who is facing a misdemeanor charge after calling 911 on a Black bird-watcher in Central Park, and George Floyd, the Black man who was accused of using a fake $20 bill at a grocery store and who died after a white police officer knelt on his neck.
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"Let it be known that this has always happened, but with smartphones and social media, we are seeing it recorded and subsequently broadcasted on the news," he said. "But there are countless others that do not get news coverage or do not get reported."
Walton said the ordinance isn't designed to discourage people from reporting emergencies in good faith, but to protect people of color who are targeted by these calls. He noted that making false police reports in California is already punishable by up to six months in jail, but "there are currently no consequences by law for people who make fraudulent emergency calls based on race."
He also expressed support for state Assembly member Rob Banta’s Assembly Bill 1550, which would create civil liability and criminal offense for those making false 911 calls based on bias against people in a protected class. He noted that similar laws already exist in Oregon and New York.
"Both the CAREN Act and AB 1550 are part of a larger nationwide movement to address racial bias and implement consequences for weaponizing emergency resources with racist intentions," he said.
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Contributing: Jessica Guynn, USA TODAY
Follow N'dea Yancey-Bragg on Twitter: @NdeaYanceyBragg
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: CAREN Act could ban racially-motivated 911 calls in San Francisco