The San Francisco Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to pass the Caution Against Racial and Exploitive Non-Emergencies Act, or CAREN Act on Tuesday.
If it becomes law, the provision would make racially discriminatory 911 calls illegal, punishable by lawsuit with damages of up to $1,000.
"I really want to emphasize that 911 is not a customer service line for someone's racist behavior," said Shamann Walton, who represents San Francisco’s District 10 and proposed the bill.
According to local news, Walton said "We don't want…the long history of false accusations of black men and boys in this country, due to weaponing law enforcement, to threaten, terrorize, and sometimes even kill them, to ever happen again."
The bill aims to discourage calls to the police by individuals that feel needlessly threatened by the presence of a different race. In one such case, that of "BBQ Becky," a concerned citizen attempted to bring first responders to the scene of a black family barbecue in Oakland, CA, citing concerns for her safety.
CAREN isn't the only type of legislation aimed at preventing racially-charged calls to the police. In 2019, the Oregon Senate passed a provision that also made it illegal to call the police purely on account of race. The legislation, which passed on June 3, 2019, was voted in 27-1. Violations of that law are punishable by fees up to $250.
The only vote against the Oregon legislation came from Senator Alan Olson who voiced concerns about the impact the new law would have on neighborhood watch programs.
"It concerns me when we pass legislation that would stifle this group of folks protecting their neighborhood," Olson said.
Critics of similar kinds of legislation point out that someone in real danger might be dissuaded from calling the police, unwilling to run the risk of being slapped with a lawsuit, in the event that they could be determined to have made the call from motivations of racial discrimination rather than our of a need for help.
While CAREN lists race in its official name, the act applies to a range of other potential discriminatory factors. According to USA Today, the language of the proposal extends to discrimination along a number of lines including race, ethnicity, religious affiliation, gender, sexual orientation, or gender identity.
Despite the unanimous vote of all 11 supervisors on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, the provision is not law yet. From here, the Board must vote on the bill again next week before it is sent to Mayor London Breed. At that point, the Mayor may sign the bill into city law.