The Next 400: Racially motivated 911 calls, fighting back against the ‘Karens’
Cleveland, Ohio (WOIO) - By now, most of us are familiar with what it means to call someone a “Karen.”
It is a term made popular by social media used to describe an older white woman, known to be a busybody often motivated by racism.
These so-called “Karens” are often caught on video calling 911 to report a Black person who is not actually committing any kind of a crime.
These frivolous 911 calls are not only a waste of police resources, but they can also put the lives of people of color in danger.
19′s Kelly Kennedy reported on two cases of this happening in Northeast Ohio. Both incidents made national headlines.
Darren Cooper, 50, was just minding his own business, sitting in his car eating breakfast, and talking on the phone before going into a work training event.
“I really thought my life would end that day on Aug. 13 at that moment in time when the officer drew his weapon,” recalled Cooper.
Despite the Hudson man’s innocence, a white woman in a parking lot across the street called 911 and told Ravenna Police Cooper was armed with a gun.
“There is a person sitting adjacent to me in a black mustang it looks as he has a pistol,” the 911 Caller said. “He was holding it up. He is moving around in his seat erratically. He lowered the gun, but yes, I really believe he’s sitting there with a pistol.”
Thankfully, Cooper came out of the incident physically unharmed, but the psychological damage on the father had been done.
“At first it just seemed so surreal that they were even talking to me because I was just minding my own business and then I started playing things through my head like he’s actually speaking to me I need to do what I told my wife and kids, and family remain calm and comply with all directions from the officer and move slowly,” Cooper said.
Cooper is not the only local Black man to face this kind of discrimination.
Just three weeks after 19 News reported that a prejudiced 911 call in Ravenna, another eerily similar incident happened about 20 miles away.
A Solon man was loading groceries into his car in a parking lot when a woman made a 911 call claiming he was driving a stolen car.
“There’s a brand-new SUV Infinity, black, and sitting in the parking lot and the guy kept looking around and looking around loading up his groceries,” a 911 caller said.
“What does the male look like that’s driving?” asked the operator.
“Uh, tall Black gentleman, shorts, T-shirt and he had a mask on,” said the 911 Caller. “He’s going real slow. He’s just acting real funny, loaded up the car and he just kept looking around.”
Being a Black man in America, Philip Evans has learned to be constantly vigilant. So, it didn’t take long for him to notice the woman’s behavior.
“I see a car come up the aisle real slow and it’s an older white woman in the car, and she has phone aimed like turned and aimed at me and my car so I’m like; ‘Is this lady videoing me, is she taking pictures of me?’” Evans said.
That woman followed Evans out of the parking lot. Shortly after that, he was stopped by Solon Police.
“Thinking back the only thing I can think of why she would call the police and say those things is because I was Black in a nice car in this neighborhood and maybe she didn’t think I could afford that type of car or something,” Evans said.
“I hope you get him!” the 911 Caller said before hanging up.
“I heard the recording and the part at the end where she says, ‘I hope you get him,’ that like kind of really, kind of really hurts,” Evans said. “Like what does she want them to get me for? She didn’t see me do anything wrong.”
Neither of these men blame the police, but they don’t think the callers who put them in danger should be let off the hook.
“I think people who do make blatant false claims and stuff like that they should be held accountable,” Evans said. “There should be some legal action or a fine or something to deter that type of behavior. I think that’s one of the only real ways you’re gonna deter this if they have to face some consequences for their actions.”
Cities and states across the country have recently passed legislation against this exact thing.
19 News tracked down a lawmaker in San Francisco, California, Supervisor Shamann Walton introduced the CAREN Act or the Caution Against Racial and Exploitative Non-emergencies Act. The hate crime legislation passed unanimously giving victims the ability to sue 911 caller for damages.
“In some of these videos you can hear people say, ‘I’m gonna tell them you’re a Black man and you’re harming me,’ so you know that they clearly understand the damage that can be done to someone who looks like me,” explained Supervisor Walton.
California is not alone. Multiple other states have recently passed similar laws.
“It’s a sad day in our nation when we have not done anything about it,” said Ohio Representative Thomas West.
As a Black man in America, Representative Thomas West knows all too well what it’s like to be racially profiled.
“People of color, they deserve to live in a safe and secure environment,” said Representative West. “They should be able to go to the store without having to worry, fear of police officers being called and police officers also are in a situation so when they go out, they’re seeing this false alarm they’re already, their anxiety is up and it just causes for a really bad situation all the way around.”
Representative West says there is a law against making a false emergency report, but he says there is nothing specifically on the books that deal with this.
“There’s nothing really that addresses the issue of the Karen’s out there that are making false claims on African Americans just for living or walking the streets each and every day,” West explained.
Representative West is working with Representative Casey Weinstein on a bill that would allow individuals to sue 911 callers who make false claims against them and as it turns out, the pair started working on the bill after Weinstein’s constituent, Darren Cooper, reached out to him after his traumatic experience.
“I definitely feel the individual needs to be held accountable because when someone is making a false police report it’s always important for attention to detail but especially when someone’s life is in jeopardy or in danger,” Cooper said.
“This guy was simply sitting in his car, talking on his phone, and then had multiple police, weapons drawn and again this isn’t necessarily the fault of the police,” said Representative Weinstein. “This is a bad report and bad information that they’re acting on, so we have to reduce the number of these instances and were looking at a comprehensive way to do that.”
Weinstein says the bill will leave it up to a jury to decide if a 911 caller is guilty.
“We want to just provide a recourse for people that this happens to, to be able to seek ultimately recourse for what happened and allow a jury of their peers to take all the information in and see if that was a motivating factor so it just gives them some protections,” said Weinstein.
Weinstein also would like part of the bill to mandate more training for first responders who deal with these racially motivated calls. The lawmakers are hoping to have the bill in place some time next year.
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