Oregon Bill Would Allow Victims of Racist 911 Calls to Sue Callers

A bill in Oregon that passed through the state Senate earlier this month would crack down on racially motivated 911 calls.HB 3216, which was sponsored by Oregon state Representative Janelle Bynum, would allow victims who had the police called on them to sue the caller for $250, NBC News reported. The victim of the call would have to be “able to prove the caller had racist intent, and that the caller summoned a police officer to purposefully discriminate or damage a person's reputation,” according to the Statesman Journal.

The new piece of legislation was approved by the state Senate on June 3, according to NBC News. "When someone gets the police called on them for just existing in public, it sends a message that you don't belong here," said state Representative Bynum.

Bynum, who is the only Black member of the Oregon House of Representatives, had the police called on her in July 2018 while she was canvassing door-to-door for her re-election campaign, The New York Times previously reported. The lawmaker was canvassing through a suburban neighborhood in Portland, Oregon when a white woman called 911 on Bynum because she looked “suspicious.”

“I don’t know if race had anything do with her call — she didn’t say that — but race had everything to do with my reaction, and my fear of not being treated well, my fear of maybe being misunderstood,” Bynum previously told the publication. “I was, of course, in disbelief.” The lawmaker told NBC News she was able to receive an apology from the woman who made the 911 call, but said most people of color who experience something like this are not always able to hold the caller accountable.

The bill is now headed back to the House, where a technical change in the text needs to be signed off on before heading to the governor, according to the news station.

In April, the City of Grand Rapids, Michigan proposed changes to a human rights ordinance that would criminalize people who make 911 calls on people of color for “participating in their lives.”

The proposed change would make calling the police based on someone’s race or ethnicity illegal, MLive.com previously reported. The proposed change states that “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 publication stated.

Grand Rapids Diversity & Inclusion Manager Patricia Caudill told the publication that the new change would force people to “check their biases” before calling the police.

“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 previously told MLive.

There have been many instances over the years where white people have called the police on people of color for participating in non-criminal activities. CNN reported on 27 incidents in 2018 where the police were called on Black people while doing nothing illegal.

Instead of calling the police, many have threatened people of color with their own weapons for doing nothing wrong. In May, a white campground manager from a campsite in Mississippi was fired for pulling a gun on a Black couple. In a viral video posted to Facebook by Jessica Richardson, a white woman, who was an employee at Kampgrounds of America Inc. in Starkville, Mississippi can be seen walking with a gun in her hand. Richardson, who is Black, can be heard explaining in the video that the white employee pulled a gun on her and her husband because they did not have reservations to be on the campsite to have a picnic.

“Today was a beautiful day so my husband (who’s a vet), our 2-year-old dog, and myself, decided to Google a lake to visit and have a picnic. We found a lake located in Starkville, MS and decided to visit,” Richardson wrote on Facebook along with the video. “Not five mins [sic] later a truck pulls up and a white lady screams at us, she then jumps out of her truck with a gun. And proceeded to point it at the 3 of us, simply because we [didn’t] make reservations.”

“After leaving my husband stopped by the office and talked with her husband (they’re the property managers). The husband tells my husband that reservations aren’t needed for the lake.”

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.