Samir Mehta | May 27, 2019
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Erik Bates | May 28, 2019
From one standpoint, I can understand the purpose of this -- essentially treating these types of false 9-1-1 crimes as something akin to a hate crime, or at least, a crime with racism at its root.

On the other hand (and, yes, I recognize that I'm saying this as a white male), my first reaction was, "Isn't it already a crime to call 9-1-1 to knowingly falsely accuse someone of a crime?"

Or, even taking 9-1-1 out of the equation - isn't it already a crime to knowingly falsely accuse someone of a crime?

My own neighborhood Facebook and Nextdoor groups are constantly littered with people posting "suspicious person" posts, describing individuals of all races engaging in "suspicious activity" such as, a white guy with tattoos going door-to-door offering lawn mowing service. Or, well-dressed black men going door-to-door trying to sell AT&T service, or my favorite - a car with Illinois plates driving down the street (keep in mind that you can practically see Illinois from my front porch).

I'd argue that, should any of these individuals, regardless of race, were to have the cops called on them solely because of some bullshit view of who should and should not be in a particular neighborhood, that person should have some sort of right to recourse against their accuser - be it small claims, as this article was talking about, or just a basic ordinance fine paid directly to the municipality.

Scott Hardie | June 8, 2019
My first instinct is not to discourage people from seeking help in genuine emergencies. Passing a law that can punish someone for calling 911 with sincere concerns? Yikes. A good number of real crimes could go unreported because people feel unsure about what they're witnessing and don't want to wind up in jail. Let me tell a story: A few years ago, I was driving home and passed by a Goodwill store after dark. The front door was open and the alarms were going off, and an unmarked van was parked at the front door in the otherwise empty parking lot. Only a light in the back of the store was on; the rest was dark. I couldn't tell if it was a robbery in progress or just an employee who forgot something after closing and tripped the alarm by going back in. But I figured I had better err on the side of caution, so I called 911 to report a possible crime in progress. I made it clear to the operator that I couldn't tell what was happening, and she understood. If a law was on the books in my area that punished white people for calling 911 on black people just going about their lives, and I happened to spot that the person who set off the alarm was black, would I have called? Probably not, because I'm not going to risk going to jail for the sake of some Goodwill store.

There is indeed a problem of white people calling 911 about innocent black people, which often brings real consequences to the black victims. It needs to stop happening. But as bad as the "Permit Patties" and "BBQ Beckies" of the world are, I'd rather not put the responsibility on ordinary citizens to stop this. The onus belongs with officials of the state, namely law enforcement, who are well trained in this and who have strict codes of conduct. They should be able to size up a picnic or a lemonade stand for what it is very quickly and let the people go on with their business. The fact that some cops proceed to harass the innocent families in these situations, searching for a reason to give the family a citation, is either a problem with overzealous racist cops abusing their positions, or a problem with unofficial quotas* and pressure from bosses not to waste resources. Either way, why hold citizens responsible for the mistakes of law enforcement?

But, just like the related problem of black men being killed at high rates by police officers -- think of Stephon Clark, Alton Sterling, Philandro Castile, Tamir Rice, Laquan McDonald, Eric Garner, Michael Brown, and far too many more -- this 911 problem isn't going to be solved by new laws, or new training procedures for officers, or any other sort of change in regulation, because that does not address the root cause: White fear of black people, especially black men. If white people fear black people in their community, and they can't rely on 911, they're going to find other ways of trying to drive them out. Do you really want BBQ Becky telling her husband and some of his armed friends that there's a suspicious black family in the park nearby, and that the police can't be called? I don't want to find out what happens in that scenario. And while we can (and should) regulate and re-train police officers to avoid civilian deaths, there are still going to be nervous white cops with itchy trigger fingers who flinch during a traffic stop with a black driver and bring deadly consequences. They're racist, not in the sense of despising black people unjustly, but rather in the sense of fearing them unjustly. We need to work as a society on eliminating these white feelings of fear, but right now we're in deep denial and completely unprepared even to talk about them, so I'm not holding my breath for a resolution.

*Tangent: I've long heard that traffic cops have quotas to fill, a certain number of tickets they must write. This always struck me as bullshit, something that irritated drivers complain about when they get a ticket for speeding as if it's not their own fault. Recently, I asked a friend of mine who was a traffic cop for many years whether quotas are a real thing. He said the truth is somewhere in between: There's no such thing as an official quota, a specific number that you must hit. But if you don't write a lot of tickets, your boss is going to start pressuring you to write more, and you wind up letting some obvious crimes go unpunished because you know they'll take up your whole shift doing paperwork when you should be out there issuing more citations. It's messed up.

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