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Virginia Takes on Race-Motivated 911 Calls

MBandman / Flickr, Creative Commons:

Calling 911 on someone because they are Black is about to become a felony in Virginia.

You've probably seen the viral videos of people calling 911 on African Americans using a public pool or birdwatching in the park. That's about to become a felony in Virginia because of a bill introduced by Delegate Alex Askew, a Democrat from Virginia Beach.

"People shouldn't have to worry about the police being called because of what they wear, the color of their skin, because someone invited to a barbecue, because they were birdwatching in the city park or that their presence alone seems suspicious or out of place," Askew explains. "But unfortunately, that's reality for myself and other Black and minority groups in this country."

Calling 911 on false pretenses is already a misdemeanor. The new law will make it a hate crime if you're targeting someone based on race, religious conviction, disability, gender identity, sexual orientation, color or national origin.

Valerie Slater at the Virginia Coalition for Transforming Police says recent events across the country have shown the new law is necessary.

"Folks have lost their lives," she says. "Folks have, individuals, the Karen if you will, have summoned police with the intent to cause harm to another person because of their race."

The bill passed both the House and the Senate on party-line votes. Now, the governor has signed the bill, although it won't go into effect until four months after the special session concludes, and that won't happen until after the election. That means opponents have an opportunity to undo the law during the next General Assembly session, which starts in January.

This report, provided by Virginia Public Radio, was made possible with support from the Virginia Education Association.