San Francisco Makes Racially Motivated 911 Calls Illegal With CAREN Act

Enika Vania

San Francisco officials have banned racially motivated 911 calls, CNN reports. The city’s Board of Supervisors unanimously voted in favor of the Caution Against Racially and Exploitative Non-Emergencies (CAREN) Act, which makes it a crime to call emergency services for false emergencies involving people of color. 

A press release from the Board explains that the act will use the anti-discrimination law concept of a “protected class” to cut down on calls to the police that are meant to intimidate or frighten, or cause harm to people.

“The CAREN Act will expand the definition of a protected class in San Francisco to prevent false emergency calls with the specific intent to discriminate against a person or otherwise infringe the person’s rights or cause the person specified harms on the basis of the person’s race, color, ancestry, national origin, place of birth, sex, age, religion, creed, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity, weight, or height,” the release said.

The name of the act comes from online discourse, where a “Karen” is a particularly entitled, older white woman. Frequently, Karens make appeals to authorities (managers, police) when they do not get their way. Several high-profile instances of the police being called as a form of racial intimidation led to the legal consequences. A similar bill has been proposed in California’s state legislature.

In addition to making the calls criminal, the new law offers a pathway to seeking civil damages against someone who calls the police with ill intent. Beyond the harm it causes an individual, the Board’s press release shared practical reasons for banning such calls.

“When law enforcement responds to non-emergency calls as a result of the caller’s prejudice, discriminatory views, and racial bias, it diverts resources away from actual emergencies to the unnecessary policing of people of color,” they explained. “This is another form of racial violence instigated against people of color that causes further mistrust between communities of color and law enforcement.”

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