Grand Rapids, Mich., may be one of the first cities in the country to implement an ordinance that would criminalize calling the cops on Black people for mundane reasons.
Last year, a bevy of #LivingWhileBlack cases occurred and brought to light headline-making episodes that caught whites calling the cops on Black people for trivial things like sitting in a Starbucks and for choosing to barbecue in a park – two cases that caught national attention for its absurdity, The Los Angeles Times reports.
While those two well known cases took place in Philadelphia and Oakland Calif., another lesser known case happened in Grand Rapids when police were called to answer a noise complaint because a group of Black people were celebrating a graduation in a public park last June. In that situation, white people reportedly felt uncomfortable with the Black attendees.
Then there was the case of two 11-year-old twin brothers who were handcuffed in western Michigan who were arrested after a call came in charging that a teen was roaming around with a gun last September.
The city is working to address the unnecessary assault on Black people by tackling the problem at its root dealing with the plethora of illegal calls targeting a specific racial group. According to the Times, the proposed ordinance would make it a “criminal misdemeanor to racially profile people of color for participating in their lives.” People who violate the ordinance by making a bogus 911 on Blacks would face a $500 fine.
“A policy like this makes it so people have to think about whether their decision to call 911 is grounded in something significant,” said Senita Lenear, the first Black Grand Rapids city commissioner.
“Our resources can’t be wasted on police addressing nonissues. You can’t ignore that people of color are the ones who have been victimized…. That is a part of a pattern.”
Similar ordinances have been introduced in Oregon and New York and more are being proposed in other cities.
Last year, Janelle Bynum, a Black state representative running for re-election for her seat in Clackamas County, Ore., decided she would hit the campaign trail and canvass door-to-door to meet her constituents.
But residents called the police on her in her own district. Bynum, now the state’s only Black legislator, is behind a bill that would allow give victims of fake 911 calls the opportunity to file for up to $250 against their accuser in court.
“I thought my incident was isolated and odd, but as time went on I realized, no, it’s not,” said Bynum, a Democrat. “My goal has always been to spark a conversation on issues, especially in Oregon where people don’t have a great understanding of civil rights history.”
While it is already illegal for people to make phony 911 calls, the proposal in Grand Rapids gives more public empowerment.
“Police can charge a person for filing a false report, but this puts more power in the hands of the person who has police called on them,” said Jeremy DeRoo, executive director of the Grand Rapids community development nonprofit Linc Up.
The city is seeking more input from community members before it goes up for a vote.
“There are too many people calling police on people in the community who are just going about their business, like they did with my sons,” said Juanita Ligon, whose twin sons were the victims of a false call reporting they had a gun resulting in their arrest.
“My only concern is that police would use the ordinance to blame any wrong things they do to the community on the people who make the 911 calls.”