In April, a white woman called the Oakland Police Department on a group of people who were barbecuing. Later that month, a Philadelphia Starbucks called the cops on two black men who were waiting for a friend.
In May, a Yale University graduate student who was napping in a common room was also reported. A similar call was made in July for a Smith College student who was just eating lunch.
In Oregon, a state lawmaker was knocking on doors for her re-election campaign when a neighbor called 911 on her.
Now, the trend has spread to New York City. On August 9, State Senator Jesse Hamilton was handing out campaign literature outside the Prospect Park train station in Prospect Lefferts Gardens when his staffer was approached by a white constituent.
A self-identified Donald Trump supporter, the woman criticized Hamilton of too strongly supporting immigrants, according to reports. She later called 911 on Hamilton.
“I was not menacing anybody, I was not harassing anybody, I was not commiting a crime,” Hamilton said. “Standing here at this subway station handing out literature should not be a 911 call.
“That 911 call against me was more than frivolous, that 911 call amounts to more than just a waste of police time and resources,” he added. “The 911 call is a call of intimidation.”
A week after the incident, the state senator stood outside the same Brooklyn train station, but this time to introduce legislation to combat the trend of calling the cops on people of color for racially biased reasons.
The proposed “911 Anti-Discrimination” bill would add penalties to the crime of false reporting. According to Hamilton, the legislation would make the act an “enhanced hate crime,” which would harshen the sentencing for the perpetrator.
Hamilton said he wants the punishment to be more than a fine. Rather, he wants the action to have a criminal component.
“If there is a potential of spending time in jail, or getting a criminal record, you’ll think twice about that,” he said. “Having a criminal record, to me, is the real deterrent.”
The state senator added that when a person makes a 911 call, their phone number is recorded. When officers arrive to investigate, that’s when the victim can tell the police that the call was racially biased.
“The facts will lay out for themselves,” Hamilton said.
Anthony Beckford, a local copwatch patrol leader and Brooklyn Assembly candidate, said when police officers are called on black men, it can sometimes lead to violence or even death.
He cited the examples of Dwayne Jeune and Saheed Vassell, both emotionally disturbed men who were killed by police officers.
“If the calls are deemed to be without purpose or merit, they need to be prosecuted,” Beckford said. “It’s not just a waste of emergency services time, but it’s also a threat to the person’s life.”
Advocates also cited the increasing gentrification of neighborhoods as a reason for the trend. Bishop Lamor Miller Whitehead said when newcomers, especially those who are white, come into the community, they may not understand the local culture.
“A lot of times I get phone calls that people call 911 just because they’re having a gathering,” Whitehead said. “We like to come outside, we might play a little music.”
“If you’re moving into the community, and you don’t like what’s going on in the community, it’s not for you to call 911 and cause trauma and inconvenience. You have to understand the vibe of that community,” Beckford added. “Have acceptance, be open-minded, be understanding, and get rid of the bias, the racism, the bigotry.”