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San Francisco Law Lets People Bring Legal Action for Racist 911 Calls

FILE - In this June 14, 2020, file photo, James Juanillo poses outside of his home in San Francisco. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu, File)
San Francisco Law Lets People Sue for Racist 911 Calls
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San Francisco lawmakers have approved a law giving people of color the right to take legal action against false accusations.

The law is meant to prevent people from calling law enforcement when they see other people, who are different from them, carrying out common activities.

In the San Francisco area, reports say white people have called 911 when they saw people of color doing things like selling bottles of water or having a barbecue. Nine-one-one is the national emergency number.

All 11 officials on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors voted this month for the Caution Against Racial and Exploitative Non-Emergencies Act, or CAREN.

The acronym CAREN sounds like the name “Karen.” That name has special meaning. It is used by some people to describe an entitled white woman who tries to use her position in society to make demands or threats without concern for the effect on others. Critics say the law’s name is sexist and unfair.

FILE - In this July 7, 2020, file photo, Supervisor Shamann Walton speaks at a news conference in San Francisco. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu, File)
FILE - In this July 7, 2020, file photo, Supervisor Shamann Walton speaks at a news conference in San Francisco. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu, File)

Supervisor Shamann Walton is a member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, the city’s lawmaking body. He introduced the legislation and is Black.

He told the Associated Press, “We don’t want… false accusations of Black men and boys in this country…to ever happen again.”

He also spoke of the killing of Emmett Till in the southern state of Mississippi in 1955. Till was a Black youth beaten to death after accusations by a white woman who later admitted to lying.

Walton also said that 911 is not a “service line for someone’s racist behavior.” He has dismissed concerns about calling the legislation the CAREN Act by saying it does not point to any individual.

When is calling 911 a problem?

In May, Amy Cooper, a white woman, called 911 from Central Park in New York City. She claimed that a Black man — who had asked her to leash her dog — was threatening her. She has now been charged with making a false police report.

In San Francisco, a white couple was criticized on social media for accusing a man of damaging someone else’s property. In a video, the couple questioned the Filipino-American man who was chalking “Black Lives Matter” in front of his home in June. The two walked toward James Juanillo and demanded to know if he was the homeowner. The couple later called police.

Supporters of the law say it is frightening to be faced with police because someone saw you as a threat.

Karen Shane poses for photos in Belmont, Calif., Monday, Oct. 19, 2020. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)
Karen Shane poses for photos in Belmont, Calif., Monday, Oct. 19, 2020. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)

Brittni Chicuata leads San Francisco’s Human Rights Commission. She said there is a proven pattern of mistreatment of “Black people and other people of color in our city” and country.

The San Francisco law gives people the right to bring legal action in court against someone who calls 911. The law also makes it unlawful to discriminate against a person on the basis of their “religious affiliation, gender, sexual orientation, or gender identity.”

Supporters say they hope it will prevent people from calling police for the wrong reasons. The legislation does not make clear what conditions are needed to bring civil legal action against someone.

The Board has gotten written complaints from eight people — several whose names have different spellings of Karen. They say they support the law but dislike its name, which they say insults women and older people.

Karen Shane, for example, wrote, “Yes, I am named Karen, and I do speak up for injustices” all the time. She asked the city to rename the law so that it does not criticize “a whole group of people.”

I’m Alice Bryant.

The Associated Press reported this story. Alice Bryant adapted it for Learning English. Hai Do was the editor.


Words in This Story

affiliation –n. the state of being closely associated with or connected to an organization, company, person, etc.

gender –n. the state of being male or female

acronym –n. a word formed from the first letters of each one of the words in a phrase, often used with Laws in the U.S.

entitled - adj. believing oneself to be inherently deserving of privileges or special treatment

leash –v. to attach a rope to a dog or other animal to control it

couple –n. two people or things that are together

chalk – v. to write something using a soft, light-colored rock

pattern –n. the regular or repeated way in which something happens or is done

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