San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors unanimously approved a measure on Tuesday aimed at cracking down on racist 911 calls, a phenomenon that’s been increasingly documented on social media.
The Caution Against Racial and Exploitative Non-Emergencies Act ― the CAREN Act, for short ― gives people who believe they’ve been the subject of a 911 call placed with “the specific intent to discriminate” the right to sue the caller in civil court. Its name evokes the “Karen” meme, this year’s shorthand for a white woman weaponizing her privilege, usually with a heaping dose of prejudice against people of color.
The ordinance was introduced by Supervisor Shamann Walton, who thanked his colleagues at Tuesday’s meeting for unanimously sponsoring it.
“Black and Indigenous people of color have the right to go about daily activities without being threatened by someone calling 911 on them due to racial bias,” he said.
“We don’t want what happened to Emmett Till in 1955 ― or the long history of false accusations of Black men and boys in this country, due to weaponizing law enforcement to threaten, terrorize and sometimes even kill them ― to ever happen again,” he added.
Walton, the only Black person on the Board of Supervisors, proposed the measure in July, not long after a white woman in San Francisco made national headlines for calling the police on a Filipino man writing “Black Lives Matter” in chalk on his own property. The incident, like so many others, was captured on video and went viral on social media.
And it wasn’t the first time something like that made waves in San Francisco. In 2018, a white woman in the city was captured on video threatening to call the cops on an 8-year-old girl (who was not white) selling water “illegally.” The internet named the woman Permit Patty.
Walton’s ordinance applies to all people discriminated against on the basis of their “race, color, ancestry, ethnicity, national origin, place of birth, sex, age, religion, creed, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity, weight, or height.”
Efforts to combat racist 911 calls are happening on a state level, too. California Assemblyman Rob Bonta introduced a bill last month that would make such discriminatory 911 calls a hate crime. Its aim is to “prevent the weaponization of our law enforcement against communities of color,” Bonta said.
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