(CALMATTERS) – Barbecuing at Lake Merritt in Oakland. Selling water without a permit. Both instances in which a Black person was doing something deemed criminal by a white person. Both instances in which a white person called the police.
Now, as racial tensions continue to flare as the nation protests the death of George Floyd and others, a California lawmaker plans to introduce legislation that would make discriminatory 911 calls a hate crime, joining a handful of states in pushing to criminalize emergency calls. Three states — New York, Oregon and Washington — have recently enacted new laws.
California’s proposal “would provide multiple pathways for justice for victims of racially weaponized 911 calls,” said Assemblyman Rob Bonta, an Alameda Democrat and the bill’s author.
He said calling the police when no crime has occurred can be “incredibly dangerous” for victims since officers have wide latitude to detain people in ways that can quickly escalate. The bill, however, isn’t in print yet. Bonta says he is still formulating the circumstances in which Californians may be punished for bias.
Similar instances of racially motivated 911 calls have occurred across the country. In May, a white woman walking her dog in Central Park called the police on a Black birdwatcher after he asked her to leash her dog.
“I’m going to tell them there’s an African American man threatening my life,” said Amy Cooper, the dog walker, during the recorded incident. The governor of New York signed legislation making these types of 911 calls a crime.
BY ELIZABETH CASTILLO | CALmatters