Shamann Walton, a member of San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors, introduced a bill Tuesday targeting racist, non-emergency 911 calls, and the name he proposed raised some eyebrows. Walton is calling it the CAREN Act — that’s Caution Against Racially Exploitative Non-Emergencies.
Walton introduced the bill at Tuesday’s meeting of the California city’s supervisors in response to the Amy Cooper-birdwatcher incident in New York City’s Central Park, the much-memed “Barbecue Becky” and “Permit Patty” situations and “countless other” examples of fraudulent calls to police targeting people of color.
A majority of board members present cosigned Walton’s bill, but many on social media took issue with the CAREN Act — specifically its name, which refers a pejorative for the recent crop of seemingly privileged, annoyed white women caught on camera and behaving badly toward people of color.
Here’s what you need to know:
The Bill Would Make It Illegal to Call the Police For Discriminatory Reasons & Allow the Victim To Take the ‘Karen’ To Court
At Tuesday’s meeting, Walton said that he was inspired to write the bill after watching a seemingly endless stream of recorded incidents in which seemingly racist white people call the police on people of color for frivolous reasons.
“Black and indigenous people often suffer post-traumatic stress symptoms based on these,” Walton said. “They are a form of racial violence and should not be tolerated.”
Under the law, anyone who calls the police for no other reason than bias against someone’s race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation or gender identity would face criminal charges. Victims of calls determined to be fraudulent would be able to take the caller to civil court, too.
Filing a false report of any kind is already illegal — a misdemeanor — under California state law. Walton said that there were still no penalties on the books for people who make a 911 call just based on race, though.
The CAREN Act Has Support in the Board of Supervisors and a State Assemblyman Has a Similar Bill in the Works
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
At Tuesday’s meeting, Supervisors Catherine Stefani, Aaron Peskin, Hillary Ronen and Dean Preston signaled their support for the CAREN Act.
The supervisors noted a June incident in San Francisco, in which a white couple threatened to call the police on Filipino man James Juanillo when he was stenciling the words “Black Lives Matter” on his own property. The woman, Lisa Alexander, turned out to be the CEO of a skincare company and was dubbed “San Francisco Karen,” becoming the subject of many unfortunate memes. Her husband, Robert Larkin, was fired from his brokerage firm after the video went viral.
A white couple call the police on me, a person of color, for stencilling a #BLM chalk message on my own front retaining wall. “Karen” lies and says she knows that I don’t live in my own house, because she knows the person who lives here. #blacklivesmatter pic.twitter.com/rOpHvKVwgP
— Jaimetoons (@jaimetoons) June 12, 2020
Supervisor Matt Haney also announced his support of the CAREN Act on Twitter Tuesday. “Racist false reports put people in danger and waste resources,” he said.
State Assemblyman Rob Bonta is also pushing a bill that would punish racist 911-dialers statewide.
“If you’re afraid of a black family barbecuing in a park, or someone who asks you to comply with dog leash laws in a park, and your immediate response is to call 911, the real problem is with your own personal prejudice,” Bonta wrote on Facebook.
Social Media Lit Up Tuesday Night With Takes on the CAREN Act, With One Woman Claiming the Bill ‘Targets Older White Women
The CAREN Act is a well-crafted acronym of anti-racist legislation:
More thought went into this than all the “Karens” had, put together pic.twitter.com/4Dku3aNLSy
— KCazares 🤙🌹☮️✊ (@cazarespr) July 8, 2020
Reactions to the CAREN Act ranged from strong support to outrage this week. Many thought the name of the bill was entirely appropriate — and hilarious.
To stop Karens from calling 911 whenever they see a person of color, SF really introduced…
— Best of Nextdoor (@bestofnextdoor) July 8, 2020
Karen & the crew holding emergency meeting to discuss The CAREN Act pic.twitter.com/2kcAmsELQh
— Hana (@HanaPerez88) July 8, 2020
Walton received a number of thank yous on his Facebook page after the announcement. One woman, however, said she agreed with the intent of the bill, but found the name CAREN “irresponsible.”
“Men and women alike [incite] racial exploitation, yet there is no significant male equivalent to the term “CAREN/Karen,” and thus is inherently sexist,” she wrote. “Please reconsider the title here.”
I would consider the juvenile and racially charged bias behind the use of the name Karen as inspiration for the “CAREN Act” as something that is unacceptable. I am not a Karen and I do not know a Karen, but it is outrageous that a social media meme that targets older white women
— rowsay (@mamarowsay) July 8, 2020
One Twitter user said she found the name to be “juvenile and racially charged,” adding that, “I am not a Karen and I do not know a Karen, but it is outrageous that a social media meme that targets older white women.”
The CAREN Act’s full text has not yet been uploaded to the city’s website. Walton had not responded to Heavy’s request for further comment, including on next steps, as of Wednesday afternoon.