A proposed law intending to prevent 911 calls perceived as “racist” has stirred up opposition from individuals who feel its acronym may fan the flames of stereotypes against the callers.
The Caution Against Racial and Exploitative Non-Emergencies (or CAREN) Act, which passed unanimously during its first reading Tuesday at the San Francisco Board of Supervisors meeting, would make 911 calls with perceived racial undertones illegal, permitting those targeted by such calls to sue.
However, critics say the measure’s connotations regarding the name “Karen” could further false stereotypes surrounding white people, especially women named Karen, who call 911.
“The ordinance’s name is a twist on ‘Karen,’ the name social media gives people making racially biased 911 calls,” CNN reported. “And it’s not just ‘Karen.’ There are also names like ‘Becky,’ which has also come to symbolize a stereotype of whiteness. And ‘Susan.’ And ‘Chad.'”
“Today the Board of Supervisors unanimously passed the Caution Against Racial and Exploitative Non-Emergencies Act, aka CAREN Act, on first reading (1 more reading next week),” tweeted city Supervisor Shamann Walton, who introduced the legislation in July.
Walton added: “911 calls, are not customer service for people’s racism.”
Today the Board of Supervisors unanimously passed the Caution Against Racial and Exploitative Non-Emergencies Act, aka CAREN Act, on first reading (1 more reading next week), 911 calls, are not customer service for people’s racism. #CARENacthttps://t.co/FWCz95gGFU
— Shamann Walton (@shamannwalton) October 20, 2020
The day the measure was introduced, co-author Matt Haney tweeted, “The CAREN Act makes it unlawful to fabricate false racially biased emergency reports. Racist false reports put people in danger and waste resources.”
Today I joined as co-author of @shamannwalton‘s CAREN Act (Caution Against Racially Exploitative Non-Emergencies Act).
The CAREN Act makes it unlawful to fabricate false racially biased emergency reports.
Racist false reports put people in danger and waste resources.
— Matt Haney (@MattHaneySF) July 7, 2020
CNN reported Walton’s and Haney’s proposal is similar to Assembly Bill 1550, a statewide measure introduced by Democratic Assemblyman Rob Bonta of California’s 18th Assembly District.
Bonta tweeted in July that together, the two bills are a “two-prong strategy to join forces and stop discriminatory 911 calls.”
“Using 911 as a tool for your prejudice towards marginalized communities is unjust and wrong!” Bonta said.
Excited to announce our partnership with Supervisor @shamannwalton ! Today, we unveiled our two-prong strategy to join forces and stop discriminatory 911 calls: #AB1550 and the #CARENAct. Using 911 as a tool for your prejudice towards marginalized communities is unjust and wrong! pic.twitter.com/NBfBaLe6x2
— Rob Bonta (@RobBontaCA) July 7, 2020
In a June news release, Bonta’s office claimed the bill’s aim was not to deter legitimate use of the 911 system.
“The intent of AB 1550 is not to discourage individuals who are facing real danger or who seek to report a crime in good faith from calling 911,” the release said. “Instead, this bill could protect millions of Californians from becoming targets of hate and prevent the weaponization of our law enforcement against communities of color.”
The Hill reported that under Walton and Haney’s proposed law, “a person can sue a 911 caller if the call made the person feel harassed, damaged their reputation or business prospects or forced them from an area where they had the right to be.
“Aside from racial discrimination, a person could also be targeted due to their sex, age, religion, disability, gender identity, weight or height,” according to The Hill.
“Multiple instances of white people calling 911 on people of color have gone viral this year, with the name ‘Karen’ now used to describe white women who use police to target members of other races,” the outlet added.
“These instances come amid protests against systemic racism and police brutality inflamed by the police killings of Black Americans including George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Rayshard Brooks.”
CNN, meanwhile, pointed to its story about a white North Carolina Hampton Inn employee who called police on a black family to report a trespassing after spotting the children swimming alone in the hotel pool, as the mother reportedly charged her cell phone in her car.
The mother recorded her dealings with police on Facebook Live, reportedly declining to provide them her name and room number when asked and instead flashing her hotel key card.
The woman told CNN that the employee did not question other individuals who had been using the pool.
Following the incident, Hampton by Hilton tweeted an apology, stating the employee no longer worked for the company.
Hampton by Hilton has zero tolerance for racism or discrimination of any kind. pic.twitter.com/1Wc7uidoOU
— Hampton by Hilton (@HamptonByHilton) June 29, 2020
CNN also mentioned a story from May that occurred in the Ramble section of New York’s Central Park. The incident involved a black man said to be bird-watching who confronted a woman for walking her dog without a leash.
The dispute intensified after he began recording her on Facebook Live, refusing to stop when she asked him. On video, she told him she would call 911 and “tell them there’s an African-American man threatening my life.”
Not everyone supports the Board of Supervisors’ proposed bill.
“The name of the act places a target on my name as a racist and I am not,” a white woman named Caren wrote in a letter to the board. “By associating the name ‘Caren’ or anyone else’s name with such a law, really is offensive.”
“I do not have objection to this act; the issue it is trying to address is wrong,” another dissenter said. “I do strongly object to the … name. The insensitive choice of many people to use the name Karen as a general purpose term of disapproval for middle age white women needs to stop.”
The dissenter added that the acronym “has a significant negative impact on too many good women with this name.”
Others tweeted their dissatisfaction with Walton and Haney’s bill in July.
Cool, but can we not name it after a meme that specifically targets women?
— n4ski37 (@n4ski37) July 8, 2020
I’m in favor of the act, but the name is misogynistic and perjorative. You can do better, I’m sure.
— Just wear the damn mask! Rosie (@SilverRose99) July 8, 2020
Similar legislation has been proposed or enacted in Los Angeles, Oregon and New York.
CNN reported the board will take its second vote on the bill in the coming week, and if it passes, Democratic Mayor London Breed can decide whether or not to sign it into law.
Truth and Accuracy
We are committed to truth and accuracy in all of our journalism. Read our editorial standards.