CROWN HEIGHTS, BROOKLYN — New Yorkers who call 911 on law-abiding people of color are committing hate crimes and should be prosecuted, according to a state senator who was recently reported to Police
for campaigning in his own district.
State Senator Jesse Hamilton
, who represents Brownsville, Crown Heights and Flatbush, proposed new legislation a week after a self-described Trump fan called police to report him for speaking to constituents in public. It would criminalize 911 calls against people of color without evidence of malice.
"That's gonna be a hate crime," Hamilton
said. "This pattern of calling the police on black people going about their business and participating in the life of our country has to stop."
Hamilton's proposal would strengthen current legislation that outlaws false reports by designating racially-motivated 911 calls as hate crimes, especially in instances where the call results in police responding with the preconception that the person might cause a threat.
"You shouldn't have your life put in danger due to ignorance," said Anthony Beckford, the leader of a local copwatch patrol unit who is currently running for State Assembly District 42.Subscribe
Under the new law, the Oakland woman who called 911 to report a barbecue, the Philadelphia Starbucks manager who had two customers arrested and the Yale student who reported a fellow student for napping could be charged and prosecuted, had they called 911 in New York State, Hamilton said.
"Waiting for your friends at a Starbucks is not a 911 call," Hamilton said. "It's a call of intimidation."
The law would affect a Park Slope woman accused of calling police on a black woman who was taking shelter from a rain storm in her doorway this month.
But Hamilton noted that three people who called 911 on Saheed Vassell — the Crown Heights man shot dead by police who mistook the pipe in his hand for a gun — would not be prosecuted under his law because Vassell did legitimately appear to be a threat, Hamilton said.
The onus to report questionable 911 calls would lie on the victim and police would be responsible for investigating whether those calls were justified, according to Hamilton.
But Milan Powell, a Brooklyn resident who stopped to hear Hamilton speak outside the Prospect Park train station Wednesday, had serious concerns about relying on the NYPD to investigate.
"We're putting responsibility in the hands of an institution that's really predatory," said Powell, 30. "I wouldn't feel comfortable with that."
Powell also expressed concerns about the practicalities of tracking down and investigating contentious calls, a task that has proved difficult in the past.
A Williamsburg landlord who made 400 false reports against tenants who opened a coffee shop in his building was only arrested in 2014 when a cop recognized his voice at a local community meeting.
Hamilton countered that officials could easily locate 911 callers through tracking devices and interview witnesses to corroborate victim's stories.
"The facts will lay out for themselves," he said.
Photo by Kathleen Culliton