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Friday, August 28, 2020

California Lawmaker Seeks to Criminalize Race-Based 911 Calls

California Lawmaker Seeks to Criminalize Race-Based 911 Calls


In an effort to alleviate some of the issues that arise from racism and its associated fear, a California lawmaker has introduced a bill that would include racially motivated 911 calls in the hate crime statute. Assemblymember Rob Bonta (D-Oakland) seeks to criminalize race-based 911 calls and give the victims of such calls a recourse for a civil remedy for their pain and suffering.

Recent Incidents


An article published in the Fordham Urban Law Journal points out that in the past few years, viral videos and commentaries have shed light on a long-existing but previously under-recorded problem — frivolous race-based police calls. For example, in Philadelphia, police arrested two Black men, Donte Robinson and Rashon Nelson, in a Starbucks after a white manager called 911 because the men did not order anything immediately upon entering the establishment.

In Oakland, a white woman called the police on a Black family barbecuing. In a different incident in San Francisco, a white woman called the police on a Black mother and her eight-year-old child because the two were selling water outside, apparently without a permit. Another white woman physically assaulted a fifteen-year old Black boy and threatened to call the police on him at a local pool in South Carolina.

Most recently, a white woman called police on a Black man in Central Park when the man asked the woman to leash her dog. Christian Cooper, a Harvard graduate and avid birdwatcher, asked Amy Cooper (no relation) to follow the park rules and put a leash on her dog. When she refused, Christian Cooper began videotaping her reaction.

Amy Cooper stated, “I am going to tell them there is an African American man threatening my life.” When police arrived on the scene, the woman told officers she felt threatened and that Mr. Cooper had left. Police did not file a report. Police Commissioner Dermot Shea said, "All the 911 operator hears is a screaming woman that basically you would think is getting attacked physically. In hindsight when we look at that video, we don't know what happened before but that was not what was portrayed."

Assembly Bill 1550


In June, Assemblymember Rob Bonta (D-Oakland) announced he is introducing legislation that will help end discriminatory 911 calls motivated by an individual's race, religion, sex, or any other protected class by designating such reports as a hate crime. The legislation also provides a civil remedy for those harmed by discriminatory 911 calls. Oregon and New York have also recently enacted laws that will allow a target of an allegedly prejudiced “911” call to file a lawsuit against the caller.

Currently, it is a criminal misdemeanor under California law to make false police reports. However, that law does not include accountability measures to address discrimination if a person calls law enforcement because they perceive another individual to be a threat due to their race, religion, outward appearance, or inclusion in a protected class. Amendments to Assembly Bill (AB) 1550 address this gap by making clear that discriminatory 911 calls qualify as a hate crime, and further establish civil liability for the person who discriminatorily called 911.

Intent of the Measure


The verbiage of AB 1550 states that its intent is to essentially criminalize race-based 911 calls and to provide a civil remedy option for victims of such calls. In part, the bill states that:

This measure is intended to create a path for an individual who has been subject to a racially motivated “911” call to be able to file a lawsuit for damages.

It is the intent of the Legislature to help end instances of “911” calls aimed at violating the rights of individuals based upon race, religion, sex, or any other protected class. The current punishment for making a false police report does not address the growing number of cases of peace officers being summoned to violate the rights of, for example, Black and Brown individuals for doing day-to-day activities—essentially living their lives.

This measure is not intended to discourage individuals who are facing real danger, or who want to report a crime, from making a “911” call to police. However, it will allow those who have been subject to unfair and unnecessary “911” calls to regain their agency by seeking justice and restitution through the criminal and civil court system. Moreover, this legislation would force people to check their prejudices before making an unnecessary, biased “911” call.

Orange County Criminal Defense Lawyer


When you need legal help, attorney Ronald Brower can help you or a loved one achieve a favorable legal outcome in California. Please contact our office today to learn how we can advocate for you and your family during these challenging times.




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