Ohio lawmakers drafting bill to crackdown on ‘Karens’ or biased 911 callers

In the summer, 19 News reported about two instances of this happening in Northeast Ohio.
In the summer, 19 News reported about two instances of this happening in Northeast Ohio.(Ravenna Police)
Updated: Feb. 2, 2021 at 10:20 PM EST
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CLEVELAND, Ohio (WOIO) - Racially motivated 911 calls are a method some private citizens are using to police people of color. We have seen it happen here in Ohio, putting Black Americans lives in danger when they are not committing any kind of a crime.

Kelly Kennedy first started reporting on these incidents over the summer and since then she has been working with Ohio lawmakers to bring this issue to light.

“We’re excited about moving forward to address and hold Karen’s accountable for some of their racist actions that they’re perpetrating on our communities,” said Ohio Representative Thomas West.

What exactly is a “Karen”? It is a term used to describe an older white woman with racist tendencies. These so called “Karen’s” are often caught on video calling 911 to report a Black person who is doing something as innocent as talking on the phone or loading groceries into their car.

“There is a person sitting adjacent to me in a black mustang it looks as he has a pistol,” the caller said. “He was holding it up. He is moving around in his seat erratically.”

It was that 911 call that led to police surrounding Darren Cooper’s car with their weapons drawn.

“I really thought my life would end that day on Aug. 13 at that moment in time when the officer drew his weapon,” said an emotional Darren Cooper following the incident.

The Hudson man was talking on his iPhone when a white woman in a parking lot across the street called 911 to report, falsely, that he had a gun.

After reporting on Cooper’s story. I reported on another very similar incident in Solon a few weeks later. Philip Evans was loading groceries into his car when a white woman called 911 accusing him of driving a stolen car.

“I hope you get him!” the 911 caller told the operator 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,” Philip Evans said in an earlier interview. “Like what does she want them to get me for? She didn’t see me do anything wrong.”

We learned while several other states had passed laws dealing with racially motivated 911 calls, we didn’t have anything in Ohio. So, 19 News reached out to Representatives Thomas West and Casey Weinstein.

“I told someone the other day I said if it had not been for you calling me I probably would not be on this story at this point in time so obviously I thank you for that,” said West. “Ever since we’ve talked to you, we have been kind of researching the topic, researching the issue and I started working with the legislative service commission to come up and draft legislation to address this issue.”

Representative West says the bill will model San Francisco’s the “CAREN Act” or the Caution Against Racial and Exploitative Non-Emergencies Act.

“There should be some legal action or a fine or something to deter that type of behavior,” said Philip Evans. “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.”

In the Ohio bill, people who knowingly make a biased false report will be fined $1,000. From there victims of these calls would have the ability to sue for damages. They are also looking at requiring the caller to undergo sensitivity training.

“It’s all about education and awareness right and a lot of folks simply don’t realize that this is issue,” said Representative Casey Weinstein. “We all have biases. I have biases. When we become aware of them, we can alter our behavior.”

They are also considering making this a misdemeanor hate crime. Weinstein says they are still looking at how they will determine if a call in racially biased in nature.

“We’re talking to stakeholders and different groups and will continue to until the bill rolls out to have the right amount of due process for citizens and basically the right approach to ensure that this truly happens to people who are knowingly making a false report,” explained Weinstein.

Representative West believes the bill will make people think twice before making a biased report.

“I think that’s exactly what it will do is make people think twice and look at their intent when they make a call,” said West. “Let me also be clear this is not a law to stop people from making calls when they’re suspicious of you know criminal activity, but it is a law to try to address the issues of people that are making it based on race.”

The pair is hoping to have the bill drafted and assigned to committee in the next couple of weeks. The goal is to get it passed this year.

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