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Oregon bill cracks down on racially motivated 911 calls

Victims of those police calls would be able to sue the caller for up to $250, under a measure overwhelmingly approved by state Senate.

Posted: Jun 3, 2019 5:20 PM

By SARAH ZIMMERMAN Associated Press

SALEM, Ore. (AP) — Oregon moved to crack down on racially motivated 911 calls on Monday, responding to a series of publicized incidents across the country where predominantly white civilians called the police on black people going about everyday activities like napping or barbecuing.

Victims of those police calls would be able to sue the caller for up to $250, under a measure overwhelmingly approved by state Senate.

The move is a joint effort by the Oregon Legislature's only three black lawmakers and is meant to "shine a spotlight on an issue African Americans have known for far too long," according to sponsoring Rep. Janelle Bynum.

"When someone gets the police called on them for just existing in public, it sends a message that you don't belong here," said Bynum, the only black member of the House.

A black family in Oakland had the cops called on them for barbecuing in the park. A Yale graduate student was questioned for sleeping in her dorm's common room. And a pair of black men were arrested in a Philadelphia Starbucks after one of them tried to use the restroom, sparking public outcry and the closure of 8,000 stores across the country for "racial bias" training.

Bynum proposed the legislation after being on the receiving ends of such a call. She was canvassing door-to-door for her re-election campaign last year when a woman called 911 because Bynum looked "suspicious."

She said although she was able to get an apology from the woman, she realized that most people have no way to hold these callers accountable.

"This creates a legal pathway to justice for those of us who have to worry about getting the cops called on us for existing in public," she said.

Victims of these calls must be able to prove the caller had racist intent, and that the caller summoned a police officer to purposefully discriminate or damage a person's reputation.

That's difficult to prove, said Sen. Alan Olsen, a Republican and one of the few critics of the bill. He adds it could discourage people from reporting crime, making "our communities less safe."

Sen. Lew Frederick, a black lawmaker and one of the measure's co-sponsors, said people could still call the police if they suspect a person is committing a genuine crime.

He added that the proposal is about making Oregon "a more equitable community" and formally recognizing the daily hardships faced by minority communities.

People of color fear police for reasons a predominantly white Legislature could never understand, Frederick said. Unnecessarily dispatching the police only heightens those tensions between police and the black community.

"It's not just an inconvenience when a police officer stops me," he said. "When a police officer stops me, I wonder whether I'm going to live for the rest of the day."

Although the measure was approved by the House, the chamber still needs to sign off on a technical change before it heads to the governor.

Oregon Coronavirus Cases

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Confirmed Cases: 9294

Reported Deaths: 209
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Multnomah230169
Marion156447
Washington144620
Clackamas77324
Umatilla6204
Union3471
Lincoln3272
Deschutes1920
Lane1803
Linn1549
Polk14912
Malheur1401
Jackson1310
Yamhill1318
Jefferson1260
Klamath1231
Hood River880
Benton835
Wasco751
Morrow721
Clatsop490
Douglas440
Coos410
Josephine411
Columbia310
Lake190
Tillamook120
Crook110
Wallowa100
Curry70
Baker40
Grant10
Harney10
Sherman10
Gilliam00
Unassigned00
Wheeler00

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Confirmed Cases: 246550

Reported Deaths: 6265
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Los Angeles1077923457
Riverside18720465
San Diego15207377
Orange15065354
San Bernardino13152265
Imperial6824100
Alameda6384138
Fresno562677
Kern493977
Santa Clara4750159
Tulare4521133
San Joaquin429855
San Francisco371950
Sacramento355969
San Mateo3376108
Contra Costa332678
Santa Barbara326129
Ventura324047
Kings258332
Marin244619
Stanislaus239144
Monterey174815
Solano147625
Sonoma12299
Merced120811
Placer75411
San Luis Obispo6752
Yolo58324
Madera5665
Santa Cruz4103
Napa3444
San Benito2572
Lassen2340
Butte2063
El Dorado2060
Sutter2063
Humboldt1384
Shasta1354
Nevada1231
Glenn1220
Yuba1031
Tehama881
Lake850
Mendocino850
Colusa700
Calaveras530
Del Norte511
Tuolumne430
Mono411
Inyo321
Siskiyou310
Mariposa271
Amador260
Plumas110
Alpine20
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