Posted on June 10, 2019

Oregon Senate Passes Bill Punishing Racist 911 Callers

P.R. Lockhart, Vox, June 5, 2019


On Monday, the Oregon state Senate passed House bill 3216, a measure introduced by the state’s three black Democratic legislators, including Bynum. The bill allows victims of these calls to sue a 911 caller for as much as $250 if the victim can prove that the 911 call was racially motivated and that the caller intended to discriminate or harm the reputation of the victim.


The bill, which passed the Oregon House in April, will return to that chamber to resolve a minor discrepancy. If the new version of the bill is approved, the measure will be sent to the desk of Gov. Kate Brown, a Democrat.

The bill comes as legislators in several cities and states are debating how to best respond to unnecessary 911 calls on black residents after a number of high-profile “Living While Black” incidents have gone viral.

“Living While Black” stories have dominated headlines for months. Legislators hope bills like Oregon’s can help put an end to them.

In the past several months, there have been numerous examples of “Living While Black” incidents — stories of black people being viewed with suspicion, subjected to 911 calls, or confronted by police officers or armed civilians for simply existing in public spaces.


But while videos and reports of these incidents have gone viral on social media, the people responsible for provoking the confrontations rarely face any sort of legal consequences.

Frivolous 911 callers have been shamed and mocked on Twitter and given nicknames like #BBQBecky, #PermitPatty, and #PoolPatrolPaula, and in a few cases, this has led to the person being fired from their job.


But in the vast majority of cases, 911 callers have suffered few if any tangible consequences. The black people subjected to the calls, meanwhile, often have to deal with increased stress and anger as a result of being racially profiled and forced to justify their presence in a public (or even private) space. Many have said they feared that they’d make a mistake during interactions with police officers — and that their mistake could be fatal.


Other states and cities are considering how to punish unnecessary 911 calls

Oregon is not the only state to consider such a measure: In 2018, New York state Sen. Jesse Hamilton introduced legislation that would make placing a false 911 call regarding an innocent black person a hate crime.

In Grand Rapids, Michigan, local officials are considering an ordinance that would make it a criminal misdemeanor for someone to call 911 on a person of color “living their lives.” {snip}


Still, the proposals have been criticized by some who are concerned that making it easier to fine and sue people for making racist 911 calls will frighten people from calling 911 when they really need help.

Oregon state Sen. Alan Olsen, a Republican, voted against the proposed 911 measure on Monday, saying that the bill would make “our communities less safe.” {snip}


“It’s not just an inconvenience when a police officer stops me,” Oregon Sen. Lew Frederick, another black lawmaker who sponsored the legislation, said on Monday. “When a police officer stops me, I wonder whether I’m going to live for the rest of the day.”