San Francisco lawmaker proposes CAREN Act to make false, racist 911 calls illegal

The Caution Against Racially Exploitative Non-Emergencies Act is a play on "Karens," white women who target people of color for engaging in everyday acts.
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Shamann Walton at a Board of Supervisors meeting in San Francisco on June 25, 2019.David Paul Morris / Bloomberg via Getty Images file

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By Isoke Samuel

A San Francisco lawmaker proposed a bill this week that would make fake and racially motivated 911 calls illegal.

Shamann Walton, a member of the city's board of supervisors, proposed the Caution Against Racially Exploitative Non-Emergencies Act, known as the CAREN Act, at a board meeting on Tuesday afternoon.

The acronym for the bill is a reference to “Karens,” the term used on social media for white women who target Black people or people of color for engaging in everyday acts. Recent examples include the white woman who called police after being asked by a Black man to leash her dog in New York's Central Park, and the white couple who confronted a Filipino American man for writing Black Lives Matter in chalk outside of his house in San Francisco.

“The CAREN Act will make it unlawful for an individual to contact law enforcement solely to discriminate on the basis of a person’s race, ethnicity, religious affiliation, gender, sexual orientation, or gender identity,” Walton said in a statement.

The bill would work alongside a proposal by California state Assemblyman Rob Bonta to make discriminatory 911 calls a hate crime.

"If you are afraid of a Black family barbecuing in the community park, a man dancing and doing his normal exercise routine in the bike lane, or someone who asks you to comply with dog leash laws in a park, and your immediate response is to call the police, the real problem is with your own personal prejudice,” Bonta said in the statement.

Current California law considers false police reports misdemeanor or felony offenses. But that does not include those who make calls like those described in the CAREN Act.

As for the name of the bill, some Twitter users, including actress Yvette Nicole Brown, have expressed amusement.

Others, like former San Francisco mayoral candidate Richie Greenberg, slammed the name.

“As if #SanFrancisco isn’t the butt of so many jokes and the poster child for Mismanagement corruption and homelessness, now we’ve got the ridiculously-named CAREN act, Oy Gevalt,” he wrote.

According to the press lease, under Bonta's Assembly Bill 1550, these 911 calls would be classified as a hate crime. The caller could also be sued for up to $10,000 in damages. Those who violate the CAREN Act would be liable for no less than $1,000.

After a 30-day hold, the CAREN Act will be heard at the Public Safety and Neighborhood Services Committee. If San Francisco Mayor London Breed signs the bill into law, it will take another 30 days to go into effect.