New York Governor Andrew Cuomo is joining the fight to make “Karen-ing” or “Connor-ing” -if male, a hate crime. In other words, callers who deliberately make false reports based on their race, gender, or religion, can find themselves facing charges for a hate crime. Although there have been many incidents of white people calling 911 on Black people who are merely trying to live, the catalyst for proposing such legislation came after Amy Cooper; a white woman called the police on Chris Cooper, a Black male. During the encounter, Chris Cooper politely asked Amy Cooper to leash her dog at The Ramble in Central Park, noted for its bird watching opportunities. Park signs clearly state that dogs must be leashed at all times. Instead of Amy “Central Park Karen” Cooper leashing her dog, she decides to call 911 and tell the operator, “An African-American man is threatening my life.” She says it repeatedly and changes the pitch and inflection in her voice to make it sound like she was physically assaulted. This was not the case. It was the perfect example of white people weaponizing their privilege and using the police, an institution where there is implicit racial bias, to their advantage. For Black people, it can come with life-threatening consequences.
The legislation was first introduced in 2018 by New York Assemblyman Felix Ortiz (D-Brooklyn) and presented in the State Senate by New York Senator Brian Benjamin. “This feels like terrorism to me, to be frank, because it’s just so scary. In the past year, we have seen many instances throughout both New York State and the country of people calling 911 on black people who are going about their everyday lives, only to be interrupted by someone calling the police for reasons that range from caution to suspicious inkling to all-out hatred.”
Under the proposed legislation, a person making a false police report that is motivated by a perception of a person’s race, color, nationality, sexual orientation, or disability will be classified as a bias-motivated crime, punishable by one to five years in prison. New Jersey and Minnesota have proposed similar legislation. Oregon and Washington have already passed bills that would criminalize calling the police when people unlawfully discriminate against other citizens and report a false crime.
The bill is part of Governor Cuomo’s police reform agenda that would ban chokeholds by the police, automatically appoint a special prosecutor for cases where police officers kill unarmed citizens, and a repeal of section 50-a of the civil rights law, which keeps all disciplinary records of police officers confidential. Illinois has current chokehold legislation enacted in 2015 that bans the use of police chokeholds but still allows certain types of holds to the neck, but the holds are not “intended to reduce the intake of air.” Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul defended the bill’s language, likening it to someone who is resisting arrest to wrestling, in which there may be contact with the neck. He said it is “unrealistic” to expect there will be no neck contact when police scuffle with someone resisting arrest.
The actions of Amy Cooper, compounded with the protests over police brutality and George Floyd’s death, seemed to force lawmakers to act quickly. “I would say look from the protester’s point of view, the community point of view, you achieved a significant accomplishment in a noticeably short period. This is real reform. It changes fundamental policies about how we police,” Gov. Cuomo said.
Kelly Washington is a freelance writer and blogger living on the southside of Chicago. You can follow her on social media @ Sunrise and Sugar (Facebook).