Last week, the state of Oregon successfully passed legislation to make illegal “racially motivated 911 calls.” Bill 3216 entitles victims to sue the 911 caller for up to $250 if they can demonstrate that the call was racially motivated and intended to discriminate against them.
Other than the obvious point that frivolous 911 calls are already illegal and can provide action for both criminal and civil suits, the question on my mind while reading through the bill inevitably became: How does one demonstrate a call against an individual who happened to be a person of colour was not racially motivated?
While, as the bill suggests, the onus is always on the plaintiff in civil suits to demonstrate their case, no charges being presented against the individual whom the call was made against is pretty strong evidence to claim frivolity. Further, a racial contrast between the caller and the claimant, in this current highly polarized racial context, can be exploited as even stronger evidence of malicious racialized intent. In other words, if a white person is calling the police on a black person – well, need I say more?
A clear example of that is how many of the articles and videos discussing Bill 3216 utilized the Yale “napping/living while black” story as a point to underscore the occurrence of racially motivated 911 calls. The story, which was examined here at The Post Millennial in depth, demonstrated a very low likelihood that Sarah Braasch, the caller, in fact had a racially biased intent. But for the media, a media who will undoubtedly be motivating, covering, and influencing the cases prosecuted under Bill 3216, it was simply enough that Braasch was white and the complainants were black.
While the Vox piece covering the Bill decried the lack of “legal consequences” for racially biased 911 calls, it stops short of fully acknowledging the grave social penalties that have followed literally every one of the #outrages it, and other news outlets, have documented in their articles. The mere prospect of a racially motivated anything has resulted in countless mobs, investigations, terminations, and defamations, all of which have occurred with relative impunity and little interrogation for those charging racist impropriety. The “napping/living while black” episode resulted in Sarah Braasch being removed from campus, at a serious hindrance to her academic career. “Permit Patty” was forced to resign from her position as CEO of a medical cannabis corporation. In some of the other cases outlined, there were clearly other factors at play in the racist incidents, or the individuals involved were legally punished for their frivolity or abuse of the claimants.
“Pool Patrol Paula” was charged with assaulting not just the black youth involved in the initial incident, but also the police officers who attempted to detain her for her assault. While “BBQ Becky” seemed to have a mental illness which contributed to her 911 calls. Neither one of these cases were simply biased white person calls the police on black people for living life and gets away with it.
In all cases, the individuals involved had their names and faces plastered across social and conventional media, their names attached unequivocally to the term racist for all to see. It is not as though their actions were ignored, celebrated, justified, or endorsed in any way. In fact, until the recent Gibson’s Bakery ruling against Oberlin College, no one had successfully, formally fought back against wrongful accusations of racial profiling.
Ultimately, the effects of Bill 3216 remain to be seen. In a column uncharacteristically intellectually diverse for CNN, contributor Cedric L. Alexander, a former Police Chief and past President of the Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives, noted the obvious outcome of the Bill was a culture of fear towards contacting the authorities depending on the race of the perpetrator. “The danger here” he writes, “is that fear of a lawsuit or misdemeanor criminal charge will discourage citizens from making legitimate 911 calls regarding legitimately suspicious criminal activity or even actual crimes.”