Lawmakers Consider Penalties for ‘Racially Motivated’ 911 Calls

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Oregon state Rep. Janelle Bynum, who is Black, tries to seem nonthreatening when she goes door to door to talk to voters. She chooses her clothes carefully. She takes notes on her phone at the end of driveways, rather than at front doors. Yet, a resident of a white, blue-collar neighborhood found Bynum’s campaigning so suspicious that she called the cops. Bynum is one of at least three Black lawmakers nationwide who proposed legislation to address racially motivated 911 calls after they were questioned by police while campaigning. Her measure, which allows victims of certain 911 calls to sue for damages, was signed into law last year, Stateline reports. She designed it to make sure people of color can walk around neighborhoods without being harassed.

Similar bills are attracting support amid nationwide protests against police brutality and  more viral videos showing white people calling 911 to report Black people for no legitimate reason. New York lawmakers in June approved legislation that would allow victims of false, biased 911 calls to sue. The governors of New York and Michigan want to make it a crime to place false, racially motivated 911 calls. Wisconsin’s governor has proposed legislation nearly identical to that proposed by state Rep. Shelia Stubbs to allow victims of certain false 911 calls to sue. California lawmakers are considering legislation that would establish civil remedies and criminal penalties for similar calls. Some Democrats don’t want to create more criminal offenses that would land more people in jail, while some Republicans say the bills could harm public safety. Some law enforcement groups say new laws aren’t necessary. In most jurisdictions, misuse of 911 already is a crime, said Lynda Williams of the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives. There’s no national database of 911 calls, so it’s hard to say whether false, racially motivated calls are common.

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