Unlawful calls to police get scrutiny

Some calls appear motivated by racism, bill proponents say

By Sydney Brown

WNPA Olympia News Service

A person who unlawfully summons the police on someone could face a civil action lawsuit under a proposed law that is gaining traction in the state Legislature.

Senate Bill 5135 would allow an individual to pursue civil action against a person who called the police without having evidence of a public safety risk. Senators voted along party lines with Democrats in favor in a 5-4 decision Jan. 21 to give SB 5135 a do-pass recommendation, and it was sent to the House Rules Committee.

Democratic Sen. Mona Das, one of the bill’s sponsors, said in a Jan. 21 interview she pursued this bill after noticing how often police are weaponized against people of color.

Das said she saw many viral videos over the summer depict a common pattern: two people cross paths in a public place, some sort of verbal altercation starts and escalates, and the police are called to a scene that never posed a risk to public safety. Das said this happens more when the perceived threat of an individual is evaluated not through their actions, but racial bias.

“Racial equity and equality is no longer a fringe concept,” Das said. “This is the time to pass bills like this.”

Sakara Rammu, a member of the Washington Black Lives Matter Alliance, told the Senate Law & Justice Committee Jan. 19 she supported the bill because it offers options for people to protect themselves after being unfairly targeted.

“We need to be empowered to seek our own remedies of accountability from the individuals who harm us,” Rammu said.

Republican Sen. Mike Padden said he wanted to clarify the language of the bill, saying people may avoid calling police even in an appropriate situation because they think they will face a lawsuit for it.

“We don’t want to make the situation worse,” Padden said. “One of the things law enforcement says helps them solve crimes is citizens making reports.”

Das said she wanted to pursue this bill in part because of Christian Cooper, a Harvard University graduate who had New York police officers approach him by Amy Cooper when he asked her to leash her dog at Central Park in May 2020.

Christian Cooper, a Black man, was accused by Cooper, a white woman, of physically assaulting her. As he videotaped her from several feet away, she made the claim to police over the phone: “There is an African American man. I am in Central Park. He is recording me and threatening myself and my dog.”

“The threat was clear: because you are Black, the police will believe me,” Rammu said. “It’s not just that law enforcement officers are likely to believe a Black person is breaking the law or is an imminent threat to the safety of others. It’s that Amy knows that most, if not all, Black people are terrified of law enforcement in this day and age because they tend to respond with unnecessary, excessive or lethal force.”

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