A black New York state senator who says a woman called 911 on him for campaigning has introduced a bill to punish people for making racially motivated police reports.
Earlier this month, state Sen. Jesse Hamilton was campaigning in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, when a woman who Hamilton said didn’t agree with his criticism of President Donald Trump called 911 when Hamilton refused to leave the public street corner. “I said ‘I’m not leaving.’ She said, ‘I’m going to call the police.’ I thought she was joking,” Hamilton said.
Hamilton hopes to pass legislation making these types of reports a crime in New York. “My civil rights were violated and other peoples’ civil rights are being violated. We have to make sure people understand you can’t call the police on someone who isn’t doing anything wrong,” he said.
Over the past few months, numerous people of color have been victims of 911 calls while going about their everyday lives. Someone called 911 on a student at Smith College while she was eating lunch, a state representative in Oregon while she was canvassing and a girl selling water on a sidewalk.
The proposed bill would require the local district attorney to investigate these incidents as hate crimes. If a report is determined to be racially motivated, the district attorney would then recommend one of a number of consequences, including fines, sensitivity training or jail time.
Sensitivity training has been used by private corporations after similar incidents, such as when Starbucks closed its stores nationwide in May after an employee called the police on two men waiting for a friend.
Hamilton said he doesn’t want to deter people from calling 911. “It’s already a crime to make a false report, we just want to enhance it to send a message that you can’t just look at someone going about their ordinary life and call 911,” he said.
Hamilton said demographics in the areas he represents are changing rapidly. New York University’s Furman Center released a report earlier this month that shows that Crown Heights’ black population decreased from 79% to 66.3% between 2000 and 2016. In the same time the white population more than doubled — from 8.6% to 19.8% — and the median rent jumped from $980 per month to $1,320.
Kristen Clarke, president of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law and former head of the Civil Rights Bureau for the New York Attorney General’s Office, said she applauds the senator for what she called a feasible proposal. “I think these calls are intended to marginalize people of color and drive them out of communities. Strong laws and meaningful action on the part of lawmakers can help to curb this conduct,” Clarke said. She added that, if it passes, the bill could inspire other states to take similar measures.
The New York State Legislature is not in session, but Hamilton’s bill is in committee awaiting a spot on the legislative calendar.