San Francisco Lawmaker Introduces ‘CAREN Act’ Aimed at Stopping ‘Racist 911 Calls’

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The law would hold callers “liable for damages no less than $1,000,” according to a press release

By Sean Neumann, People

A San Francisco lawmaker says he’s tired of “racist 911 calls” and has proposed legislation criminalizing unnecessary emergency calls to authorities based on racial prejudice.

Shamann Walton, one of the city’s supervisors, announced Tuesday that he was introducing the “CAREN Act,” short for Caution Against Racially Exploitative Non-Emergencies.

“Racist 911 calls are unacceptable that’s why I’m introducing the CAREN Act at today’s SF Board of Supervisors meeting,” Walton tweeted Tuesday. “This is the CAREN we need.”

The law would hold callers “liable for damages no less than $1,000,” according to a press release from Walton’s office.

The announcement comes amid a wave of viral social media videos in recent weeks showing white people calling law enforcement — for no legitimate reason — on people of color in parks, grocery stores and other public places.

Many of the white people in the videos are women, broadly grouped into the derisive meme of “Karens.”

In perhaps the most notorious recent example, one May video showed Amy Cooper calling the police on a Black man who was bird-watching in New York City’s Central Park.

San Francisco was the site of another viral video last month, showing Lisa Alexander calling the police on a man who was stenciling “Black Lives Matter” with chalk on his own property.

Both Cooper and Alexander later apologized, but new ordinances like Walton’s in San Francisco aim to make those found placing unnecessary 911 calls face bigger punishments than public condemnation. (Earlier this week, Cooper was charged with a misdemeanor of false reporting.)

“These incidents cause serious harm to the person falsely accused of a crime, cause anxiety and distrust among people of color, and put an unnecessary strain on law enforcement officers responding to frivolous and false calls,” Walton’s newly proposed legislation reads.

His proposal was quickly embraced by other California lawmakers who have recently called for similar action to be taken, including California State Assemblyman Rob Bonta from Oakland, who announced Tuesday he’ll join forces with Walton to pass the act.

“Using 911 as a tool for your prejudice towards marginalized communities is unjust and wrong!” tweeted Bonta, who has introduced a similar, state-wide bill.

In a joint statement, Walton and Bonta said that false 911 cals leave victims with “long lasting emotional distress and trauma” and explained that they’re hoping to establish “civil liability for the person committing the discriminatory 911 call and monetary fines.”

Under Bonta’s AB 1550, a wrongful 911 call based on a person’s race could result in that caller facing hate crime charges.

The legislation would also “allow the person harmed to sue the caller making a fraudulent 911 call for no less than $250 and up to $10,000 in damages.”

Bonta said the purpose of his and Walton’s joint action is to remove the ability for people to “use our 911 and law enforcement systems as weapons for hate.”

“If you are afraid of a black family barbecuing in the community park, a man dancing and doing his normal exercise routine in the bike lane, or someone who asks you to comply with dog leash laws in a park, and your immediate response is to call the police, the real problem is with your own personal prejudice,” Bonta said.

Similar laws have been introduced in New York, Oregon and Washington, where lawmakers are discussing ways to combat false 911 calls based on racial prejudices.

Walton and Bonta said: “Creating a means for people who suffer this kind of discrimination to seek redress from those who have targeted them through a civil cause of action for damages will discourage this type of behavior and provide a tangible way for these victims to be compensated for this wrong.”

This article originally appeared in People.

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