Oregon is considering a bill that would allow people on the wrong end of “racially-motivated” 911 calls to sue the caller for $250 if it turns out there was no legitimate reason for the call, Yahoo News reports.
Over the past few years, the news has been filled with stories of white people calling the police on people of color, usually African Americans, for doing mundane and perfectly legal things, such as conducting a political campaign. In other cases, calls were made for acts that were technically illegal but certainly not worthy of a 911 call, such as barbecuing in a section of a park not authorized for BBQs.
The people who made such calls have sometimes become objects of scorn and public derision, even earning mocking nicknames for their actions. There was “BBQ Becky” (Jennifer Schulte) who called the police on a black family for having a barbecue in the wrong part of an Oakland park. Likewise, Alison Ettel was named “Permit Patty” after she called the cops because an African American girl was selling bottled water without a permit. And the list goes on. In fact, ABC News published a list of such incidents in October 2018, though many more have taken place since then.
A powerful look at what we should learn from #BBQBecky, #PermitPatty, and other viral stories of white people calling the police on black people for just living their lives: https://t.co/GDgbUKlPvz @baratunde #LivingWhileBlack
— TED Talks (@TEDTalks) May 29, 2019
The Oregon legislature would like to put a stop to that, and to that end, it’s considering a bill, recently passed overwhelmingly by the state’s Senate, that would put a financial burden on people who make 911 calls without sufficient reason.
Representative Janelle Bynum, who sponsored the bill, says that persons of color shouldn’t have to live in a world where the cops will be called on them for trivial reasons, or for no reason at all. “When someone gets the police called on them for just existing in public, it sends a message that you don’t belong here,” she said.
Bynum herself was the victim of such a call. The politician was conducting her political campaign, going door-to-door to meet voters, when a neighbor called the cops on her because she looked “suspicious.” She was later given the chance to speak to the neighbor and resolve the issue with them, but not everyone on the receiving end of such a phone call is so lucky.
Oregon’s House of Representatives has passed its own version of the bill. As is usually the case with such things, there are slight differences between the bills that both chambers are considering, differences that will have to be hashed out before going to the governor for a signature. It remains unclear, as of this writing, if Oregon Governor Kate Brown intends to sign the bill.