Michigan Could Penalize Racists Who Make False 911 Calls on People of Color

A city in Michigan wants to amend an ordinance that would make it illegal to call 911 on people of color for “participating in their lives.” The city of Grand Rapids, Michigan has proposed changes to a human rights ordinance that would include a “bias crime reporting prohibition.” The proposed change would criminalize calling the police on people of color who are not doing anything illegal, MLive.com reported.

Grand Rapids Diversity and Inclusion Manager Patti Caudill said that the amended ordinance would force people to “check their biases” before calling the authorities.

“Call the police, but if you’re calling because your neighbors are having a barbecue and you’re calling because of some implicit bias because they’re people of color, we don’t want to see that,” she told MLive.

The proposed change would make calling 911 based on someone's race or ethnicity rather than illegal activity a criminal misdemeanor, MLive stated. “No person shall make a police report that is based in whole or in part on an individual’s membership in a protected class and not on a reasonable suspicion of criminal activity in consideration of all available facts and the totality of the circumstances,” the proposed change read, according to MLive.

The ordinance would prohibit anyone from discriminating against another person exercising their civil rights based on their race, color, religion, gender, or sexual orientation, according to the publication. The revisions include identifying the “four primary potential areas of discrimination, which are discriminatory practices in housing, employment, contracting, and bias crime reporting,” the news outlet reported. Anyone who violates the ordinance could receive up to a $500 fine, and the city attorney’s office would prosecute any potential cases.

“The human rights ordinance provides the infrastructure so that all these issues have a backbone supporting and addressing them. It creates a way to address a broad range of problems and to correct them,” Jeremy DeRoo, executive director of the nonprofit advocacy group LINC Up, told MLive.com. White people calling the police on people of color for engaging in non-criminal activity has become common practice. In 2018, CNN reported on 27 incidents when the police were called on Black people who did not engage in criminal activity.

In March, a Black lawyer was detained in court by an officer who thought he was impersonating a lawyer. Rashad James, a lawyer for Maryland Legal Aid’s community lawyering initiative, was appearing at a hearing on March 6 at Harford County District Court on behalf of a client when a sheriff’s deputy approached him in the hallway. The sheriff called James by his client’s name, and although James corrected the officer, the deputy was convinced he was lying about his identity.

Despite providing a driver’s license to prove his identity, James was detained for 10 to 15 minutes and had to make phone calls to prove his identity. James believes the action was racially motivated and has filed a complaint with the Harford County Sheriff’s Office.

About the Author

Maria Perez is a breaking news writer for The North Star. She has an M.A. in Urban Reporting from the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism. She has been published in the various venues, including Newsweek, Juvenile Justice Information Exchange, City Limits, and local newspapers like The Wave and The Home Reporter.