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San Francisco officials vote to allow targets of racist 911 calls to sue

San Francisco officials vote to allow targets of racist 911 calls to sue
© Greg Nash

The San Francisco Board of Supervisors voted unanimously on Tuesday to allow targets of racist 911 calls to sue their accusers. 

The Caution Against Racial and Exploitative Non-Emergencies Act, also known as the CAREN Act, comes amid heated racial tensions nationwide, included multiple instances of white people calling the police on African Americans who aren't breaking any laws or posing a threat. 

“911 calls are not customer service for people’s racism,” Supervisor Shamann Walton, who introduced the legislation and is Black, said on Twitter. 

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Under the legislation, a person can sue a 911 caller if the call made the person feel harassed, damaged their reputation or business prospects or forced them from an area where they had the right to be. Aside from racial discrimination, a person could also be targeted due to their sex, age, religion, disability, gender identity, weight or height. 

The board has to vote on the measure again before Mayor London Breed (D) can sign it, according to CNN

Multiple instances of white people calling 911 on people of color have gone viral this year, with the name “Karen” now used to describe white women who use police to target members of other races. These instances come amid protests against systemic racism and police brutality inflamed by the police killings of Black Americans including George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Rayshard Brooks.

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In June, a video went viral of San Francisco woman Lisa Alexander confronting a Filipino man over stenciling “Black Lives Matter” in chalk on his own property. She could be heard promising to call the police over the incident. 

In July, Amy Cooper was charged with falsely reporting an incident after viral May footage of her calling 911 on an African American man in Central Park in Manhattan and falsely claiming that he was threatening her. Prosecutors said earlier this month that she had made a second call falsely accusing the man of assault. 

Objections have arisen over the CAREN Act's name. Vic Vicari wrote to the Board of Supervisors that the name “has a significant negative impact on too many good women with this name.” 

"I do not have objection to this act; the issue it is trying to address is wrong. I do strongly object to the name,” Vicari wrote. “The insensitive choice of many people to use the name Karen as a general purpose term of disapproval for middle age white women needs to stop. It has a significant negative impact on too many good women with this name.” 

A similar bill has been introduced in the California General Assembly intended to make people think twice before calling 911 on people of color. A.B. 1150 would make it a misdemeanor to make false reports to the police and allow those who had been subject to racially motivated 911 calls to sue for damages. Oregon and New York have enacted similar laws.