Calling 911 to harass or otherwise violate someone's rights based solely on their race is classified as a hate crime that can result in jail terms and a fine that California legislature passed Monday.
The legislation is based on a nationwide accounting of systemic racism and confrontations across the country, in which white people in particular have made discriminatory emergency calls to the police when they come across people in a park with colored bird watching and crickets.
The problem has received a lot of attention on social media, with memes coining the term “Karen,” a label given to people – mostly white women – who make illegitimate calls to people of color, or more generally said those caught on video exhibits are racist behavior.
“You can joke about it. But it's not a laughing matter. A person could lose their life in the wrong situation, "said Reggie Jones-Sawyer (D-Los Angeles) MP who introduced the bill. "I've seen it affect more and more people when this (Trump) administration licensed someone who was bigoted to crack down on blacks and Latinos."
Jones-Sawyer said the problem brought back memories of the murder of Emmett Till, the black teenager who was kidnapped and beaten to death in Mississippi in 1955 after being accused of whistling a white woman. Two white men accused of killing Till were acquitted, and the woman who made the accusation later retracted some of her allegations. The case helped fuel the civil rights movement of the 1960s.
Law AB 1775 was passed in both Senate and Assembly and was endorsed by the California State Sheriffs' Assn. and League of California Cities. The bill now goes to Governor Gavin Newsom for his review.
The move was approved just months after a video of a white woman calling police about a black man in New York's Central Park went viral. Amy Cooper called to report that she was threatened by "an African American". The bird-watching man, Christian Cooper, videotaped the incident and it was posted on Twitter.
Amy Cooper was charged a misdemeanor in July for filing a false report.
That same month, San Francisco county chief Shamann Walton introduced a measure called "Beware of Racially Exploitative Non-Emergencies" – the CAREN Act – that would turn discriminatory emergency calls into a hate crime. Walton's action was filed shortly after a person called the police to report a Filipino man stenciling "Black Lives Matter" in chalk on the wall of his own home in the Pacific Heights neighborhood.
The bill, approved by lawmakers on Monday, says that a person who knowingly makes a fake and harassing emergency call will call another person in a protected class – including race, color, ethnicity, religion, nationality, country of origin, ancestry, disability, gender , Gender identity, gender expression, or sexual orientation – can be charged with a misdemeanor and punished with up to one year in prison and a fine of at least $ 500.
Calling 911 to harass someone would also be an offense that could result in a fine of $ 250 or up to six months in a county jail. The legislation also extends the rights of those affected by discriminatory emergency calls to file a civil claim for damages.
“This bill addresses the misuse of 911 when specifically used as a harassment tool or to lead to a false police report aimed at harassing a person based on either their skin color or any of the other protected traits. ”Said Senator Nancy Skinner (D-Berkeley), a co-author of the bill, along with Rep. Rob Bonta (D-Oakland).
The bill does not apply to emergency calls made by people with an intellectual or developmental disability that make it difficult for them to understand the consequences of their actions.