California Dreaming is more than a Beach Boys song, people. (Younger readers can ask their parents about that reference.) The legislature of the Golden State is fed up with all of the Karens out there misusing the 911 emergency call lines to commit racist acts of harassment and they’re dreaming of a solution. And if they have their way, such instances will be treated as a hate crime, with stiffened penalties up to and including a $2,000 fine and a year in jail. The legislation under discussion is Assembly Bill AB-1775 and it was taken up on the floor of the Assembly yesterday. If you think this sounds like a train wreck waiting to happen, then you’ve probably been paying attention to the news lately. (CBS Los Angeles)
The California Legislature Friday will begin debating a bill which would make it against the law to make a false 911 call based on a person’s ethnic background, gender, religion or sexual orientation.
Assembly Bill 1775 would make it a hate crime to make a discriminatory 911 call.
Under the bill, doing so would come with a misdemeanor sentence of up to one year in jail and a fine of up to $2,000.
AB 1775 is combining three previous bills under one, Huntington Park Assemblymember Reggie Jones-Sawyer said Thursday.
In addition to a stiff fine and potential jail time, AB-1775 would allow the person being reported on a false call to sue the caller for damages in civil court. (You can read the full text of the bill here.) There are some flaws with this idea that should be immediately obvious.
First of all, it’s already against the law to make false reports using the 911 system. As with all so-called “hate crime” laws, this would just impose a more severe penalty to falsely report certain favored classes. You can still call in a false report against a straight, Christian, cisgender, White male and only face the previous fine of $250 on the first offense and up to six months in the county jail for a subsequent violation.
A more serious concern comes with the question of what specifically qualifies a call as being “false.” If someone is chasing you through the park, they might be coming to tell you that you dropped your wallet. On the other hand, they may be coming to take your wallet at knifepoint. How long are you supposed to wait to find out before dialing 911 on the run? The linked CBS article once again makes reference to the now-infamous Central Park Karen because it’s apparently the only solid example the press can dredge up these days. (And whether or not that one is “solid” won’t be known until her court date, as we’ve covered here before.)
There’s a much bigger concern here as well. Let’s say you run into a situation where you feel legitimately frightened for your personal safety, perhaps when the BLM rioters show up in your neighborhood and some of them appear to be armed. Are people who are aware of this law going to hesitate to call for help out of fear of being arrested themselves or caught up in a ruinous lawsuit? If that hesitation leads to them being down on the ground before they can correct their error and take out their phone, you’ve generated a far worse outcome than the alternative, which would be a phone call leading to no legitimate threat or arrest.
Let’s also consider the consequences of each course of action or lack thereof and compare them. If you call 911 over a suspicious-looking character and they turn out to not be a threat, what damages have been incurred? You’ve wasted the time of a cop, assuming one shows up to investigate. But the wrongly-suspected person winds up going about their business. Now let’s consider what happens if that suspicious-looking character turns out to be armed and intent on robbing you, assaulting you or worse but you hesitated to call for fear of being arrested on hate crime charges. I don’t think you need any help answering that one.
Look if someone is repeatedly calling 911 on their ex or some neighbor they have a beef with, in the hopes of causing trouble for them, by all means, arrest them for abusing the emergency helpline. And since we clearly are living in the era of thought crimes, if you want to tack on some extra penalties if the person is a minority, I suppose you can do that as well. But if someone makes a single 911 call in a situation where they may have legitimately felt threatened and they wind up going to jail, then this law will have proven itself to be an abomination.