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July 8, 2020, 4:12 p.m. EDT

Fed-up San Francisco lawmaker proposes ‘CAREN Act,’ targeting racist 911 calls

Supervisor Shamann Walton proposes law against reporting ‘racially exploitative non-emergencies’

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By Mike Murphy


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Separate state legislation would add a hate-crime designation to false 911 reports based on racial bias.

Calling 911 to report a fabricated, racially-biased emergency would be illegal in San Francisco under a new proposal called, appropriately enough, the CAREN Act.

“Racist 911 calls are unacceptable that’s why I’m introducing the CAREN Act at today’s SF Board of Supervisors meeting,” San Francisco Supervisor Shamann Walton tweeted Tuesday . “This is the CAREN we need. Caution Against Racially Exploitative Non-Emergencies.”

“Karen,” of course, has become a pop-culture catch-all name for people (in many notable cases, white women) who call the police on people of color for trivial matters, exaggerating a situation or falsely claiming they’re breaking a law. Recent incidents include a New York woman who called the police on a Black bird-watcher in Central Park ; an Alameda, Calif., Black man who was arrested after a woman reported him for dancing in the street ; and a San Francisco woman who called the police on a Filipino neighbor for writing “Black Lives Matter” in chalk in front of his house.

The proposed San Francisco legislation would hold people liable for calling 911 to report something they know is false or exaggerated, and based on racial bias. Violators would be liable for civil damages of at least $1,000, according to a statement from Walton’s office, which pointed out that Oregon and New York have passed similar legislation.

“When law enforcement respond to non-emergency calls as a result of the caller’s racism and racial bias, it diverts resources away from actual emergencies to the unnecessary policing of people of color,” Walton’s office said.

“Calling the police on someone that you label as out of place, simply for being Black or a person of color in public, is just as dangerous as yelling fire in a crowded theater. You are putting someone’s well-being at risk by subjecting them to a humiliating, unnecessary, sometimes lethal police interaction,” said Sheryl Davis, director of San Francisco’s Human Rights Commission. “Fining 911 abusers who waste police time and violate their fellow citizens’ civil rights is one way to discourage this abhorrent behavior.”

Fellow San Francisco Supervisor Matt Haney co-authored the bill, and noted in a tweet : “Racist false reports put people in danger and waste resources.”

Walton said he aims to join a statewide effort by California State Assemblymember Rob Bonta of Oakland, who has introduced similar legislation.

While it is already illegal to file a false police report, that legislation would add a hate-crime designation to reports based on racial bias.

The bill “will impose serious consequences on those who make 911 calls that are motivated by hate and bigotry; actions that inherently cause harm and pain to others,” Bonta said in a statement .

Bonta stressed that his proposal does not seek to discourage people from calling 911 to report real emergencies.

However, “racist and discriminatory 911 calls are dangerous, demeaning and demoralizing to the person falsely accused. They further deteriorate community-police relations and contribute to the inaccurate and harmful over-criminalization of black and brown communities,” Bonta said in a statement. “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.”

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