The past two years has seen a rise in highly publicized 911 calls on people of color for the simple crime of #LivingWhileBlack.
Now, Grand Rapids, Michigan is considering an ordinance that would make it a “criminal misdemeanor to racially profile people of color” for non-crimes and petty reasons, according to local lawmakers. Folks who abuse the emergency hotline to discriminate and harass Black folks will be subject to a $500 fine, ABC reports.
“A policy like this makes it so people have to think about whether their decision to call 911 is grounded in something significant,” said Senita Lenear, a Grand Rapids city commissioner. “Our resources can’t be wasted on police addressing nonissues. You can’t ignore that people of color are the ones who have been victimized…. That is a part of a pattern.”
Activists across the country are pushing for similar laws. In Oregon, state Rep. Janelle Bynum has joined the political debate about efforts to either outlaw or discourage racially charged calls. Last July, she was going door to door in her district outside Portland when police were called on her because she looked “suspicious.”
Bynum, the state’s only black legislator, has now put her full support behind a bill that would allow victims of racially biased 911 calls about non-crimes “to sue the callers in small claims court for up to $250,” per L.A. Times.
“I thought my incident was isolated and odd, but as time went on I realized, no, it’s not,” said Bynum, a Democrat. “My goal has always been to spark a conversation on issues, especially in Oregon where people don’t have a great understanding of civil rights history.”
via LA Times:
Bynum’s proposal recently passed the state’s House and a Senate commitee. In Grand Rapids, the proposed ordinance has received a mix of support and criticism at City Commission meetings. Other attempts to enact such laws, including measures proposed last year by state legislators in New York and Michigan, have failed.
Opponents of each have raised similar concerns. One is that making false crime reports is already illegal in many parts of the U.S. Another is that although it’s relatively easy for police who show up at a scene to determine that there’s no crime, it’s harder to decide whether the 911 caller was acting in a racist manner in making a report.
“We don’t want to thwart people from calling when they think there is something suspicious in their neighborhood,” said Ronal Serpas, a criminal justice professor at Loyola University New Orleans. “But we don’t want it to be a racial proxy. We can do both. Whether we need new laws, I don’t know.”