Viral video prompts legislation to fine those who make discriminatory 911 calls

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After a video of a couple confronting a person of color in front of his Pacific Heights home went viral last week, Supervisor Shamann Walton has announced plans for legislation making discriminatory 911 calls illegal.

Walton’s proposal, which was announced during Tuesday’s Board of Supervisor’s meeting, would authorize police to fine people who made 911 calls based on their prejudices.

“In these times of continued systemic and systematic oppression of black people, we have to be innovative and strong with our solutions. It is also our collective responsibility as the Board of Supervisors to prevent racial discrimination in all its forms and seek justice for people when we are unable to stop discrimination from happening,” Walton said in a statement.

The legislation will be drafted with the City Attorney’s Office and community groups such as the Human Rights Commission, according to Natalie Gee, Walton’s legislative aide.

“There should be consequences for actions that threaten the freedom and safety of others,” Human Rights Commission Director Sheryl Davis said in a statement. “Calling the police on someone that you label as out of place, simply for being black or a person of color in public, is just as dangerous as yelling fire in a crowded theater.”

The announcement by Walton comes less than a week after a video went viral depicting a white couple questioning a Filipino man named James Juanillo, who was using chalk and a stencil to write “Black Lives Matter” on the front of his house. According to Juanillo’s twitter, the couple ultimately reported him to law enforcement, but the officers who arrived on the scene didn’t bother to get out of their car.

The video begins with a woman, who has since been identified in news reports as Lisa Alexander, asking Juanillo if he owned the property. She goes on to claim that she knows who lives in Juanillo’s house, but when he asks the couple to identify themselves, Alexander responds by saying, “We’re not doing anything illegal.”

If Walton’s proposal is ultimately turned into law however, that might no longer be the case.

“We know that this has happened to a lot more other people, even our constituents, for just doing normal daily things,” Gee said. “Just having more video and especially having it happen in San Francisco gave us the push of like all right, you know let’s go, let’s do this.”

This isn’t the first time that a 911 call has sparked controversy in San Francisco. In June of 2018 a woman was filmed calling the police on an 8-year-old girl for selling water on the street below her apartment.

Although there is already a California statute in place that makes it illegal to knowingly falsify a report to the police, Gee said that this ordinance would focus solely on 911 calls incentivized by race, gender and religious affiliation.

Walton is not the only legislator looking at ways to curb discriminatory calls to police. California State Assemblymember Rob Bonta, D-Oakland, also announced legislation on Wednesday that would categorize racially motivated 911 calls as a hate crime and provide a civil remedy for victims of these cases.

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