San Francisco officials pass CAREN Act to ban racially motivated 911 calls

A July incident rooted in someone stenciling 'Black Lives Matter' inspired the CAREN Act.

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The supervisors of San Francisco voted unanimously on Tuesday to pass a law that makes racially-motivated 911 calls a crime. 

The Caution Against Racially and Exploitative Non-Emergencies (CAREN) Act was introduced in July after police were called on a man stenciling “Black Lives Matter” in front of his own home. 

Lisa Alexander (left) and Amy Cooper, known for specific racially-related police calls in San Francisco and Central Park respectively, could consider themselves among the inspirers of Frisco’s new CAREN Act.

The incident occurred in the fashionable neighborhood of Pacific Heights. The viral video of the encounter between Lisa Alexander, her male partner, identified as “Robert,” and James Juanillo occurred when Alexander confronted Juanillo as he finished stenciling on the retaining wall of the house where he lived. 

After being questioned by the couple, Juanillo, who identifies as a person of color, encouraged Alexander to call the police if she felt threatened. She did. 

“The police came and recognized me immediately as a resident of the house and left without getting out of their patrol car,” Juanillo told ABC7. “I didn’t even show them my ID.”

While the incident was quickly resolved, and Alexander did ultimately apologize, the issue of White women making racially-motivated calls to police has become part of the conversation as protests against police brutality have swept the nation this year. 

According to a press release from the city of San Francisco, “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.”

While the offense will not result in jail time or even a fine, it will provide accommodation for the victim to sue in a civil court for up to $1,000, plus attorney costs. 

San Francisco Supervisor Matt Haney, who co-authored the CAREN Act, tweeted in July that “racist false reports put people in danger and waste resources.”

In letters to the board of supervisors, several San Francisco residents urged them to reconsider the bill’s name. One woman wrote that the bill “places a target on my name as a racist, and I am not.” 

Other cities and states have also proposed legislation to make racially-motivated 911 calls a criminal offense. In New York, a similar law, inspired by Central Park caller Amy Cooper, would be punishable for up to five years in prison. 

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