On July 30th, The New Jersey Senate unanimously passed S-2635 which includes false incrimination and filing a false police report as a form of bias intimidation and establishes the crime of a false 9-1-1 call with the purpose to intimidate or harass based on race or other protected class. This legislation is essential to provide a deterrence against those who would attempt to weaponize the police.
The purpose of law enforcement in New Jersey is to protect and serve their communities. The function of the 9-1-1 system is to summon the police to perform this purpose. Calling the police when no crime has occurred can be incredibly dangerous for victims of this attempt at bias intimidation, since officers have wide latitude to detain people in ways that can quickly escalate into life and death situations.
In May of 2020, a white woman walking her dog in Central Park in New York called the police on a Black birdwatcher after he asked her to leash her dog. “I’m going to tell them there’s an African American man threatening my life,” said Amy Cooper, the dog walker, during their encounter.
On June 29th, in Montclair, a woman named Susan called the police on a black couple and their young boys to make a false accusation of assault after she walked onto their property three times in 30 minutes demanding to know if they had a permit to install a stone patio. The fear of police response is very real, in the video, you hear the mother plead with her husband “so our kids don’t have to see the police, please, please just go inside with them”.
The couple’s neighbors immediately rushed to their defense calling Susan out for her behavior and bias intimidation. In a rebuke of Susan’s behavior and to affirm a commitment to racial justice, over 40 Montclair residents marched on that street with signs saying, "#NotHere;" "White Entitlement is Violence" and chanting, "Hey Hey Ho Ho, your racism has got to go." They drew chalk messages in the street reading "Black Lives Matter" and "NotHere." While Montclair ended with a display of solidarity, it is easy to imagine the dangerous turn that call may have taken.
Individuals with racial biases have abused the 9-1-1 system to weaponize police response against people of color, capitalizing on the long-standing history of racial bias in how police respond to black and brown people.
With the passage of S-2636 we have moved one step closer to ensuring that New Jersey’s police are not weaponized for purposes of bias intimidation, and those who attempt to do so will be held accountable under this law.