San Francisco lawmakers propose CAREN Act for racially motivated police calls

By and

San Francisco lawmakers proposed the CAREN Act on Tuesday, July 8, which aims to criminalize racially-motivated police calls. The proposal was inspired by the rise of the “Karen” social media phenomenon, where older, white females, dubbed “Karens” in popular Internet vernacular, have been filmed exhibiting racist behavior and calling the police on people of color. 

The proposal was thus named the Caution Against Racially Exploitative Non-Emergencies (CAREN) Act.

“This is the CAREN we need,” tweeted San Francisco supervisor and lawmaker Shamann Walton on Tuesday, July 7.

Recent videos of “Karens” having “entitled tantrums” are trending on various social media platforms, and users are quick to call out these individuals’ privileged and racist behavior. For example, a woman named Amy Cooper has been recently nicknamed the “Central Park Karen” after a video surfaced of her calling the police on a black science writer, Christian Cooper, who was birdwatching in the park. Christian had asked Amy to put her dog on a leash, which is customary in Central Park, prompting Amy to call the police. After the clip was circulated on social media, Amy was fired from her job

Although current California law makes false reports to the police illegal, Walton says that the law fails to provide “consequences for people who make fraudulent emergency calls based on… race, religion, ethnicity, religious affiliation, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, or outward appearance.” The CAREN Act attempts to fix this by placing an emphasis on the motivation behind a call, and giving victims of 911 racial profiling the power to file a lawsuit for damages.

Undergraduate student Josh Singh ’23 is active on social media and has seen countless stories and videos about “Karens.” After watching the Cooper video, he described Cooper as not held accountable for her actions quickly enough. He says that the CAREN Act can potentially hold people accountable for their actions on and off camera.

“[The CAREN Act] might deter people from [making racially motivated calls],” Singh said. “But more importantly, it’s allowing the [city] to take action against those who have made these types of calls.” 

However, according to Singh, implementation of the measure may be difficult because there is no brightline to what classifies as racially motivated. 

“I don’t know where you can draw the line to say [ whether a call] is racially motivated [or] not. Certain cases are pretty clear cut,” said Singh. “Other cases are going to be very hard to determine, and it’s really hard to implement a law like this where it’s up to [subjective] discretion.”

Contact Rachel Kavalakatt at rkavalakatt ‘at’ gmail.com and Rachel Jiang at racheljiang310 ‘at’ gmail.com. 

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Rachel was a high school intern for The Daily in summer 2019.