Oregon moved to crack down on racially motivated 911 calls on Monday, responding to a series of publicized incidents across the country where predominantly white civilians called the police on black people going about everyday activities like napping or barbecuing.
Victims of those police calls would be able to sue the caller for up to $250, under a measure overwhelmingly approved by the state Senate.
The move is a joint effort by the Oregon Legislature's only three black lawmakers and is meant to "shine a spotlight on an issue African Americans have known for far too long," according to sponsoring Rep. Janelle Bynum.
"When someone gets the police called on them for just existing in public, it sends a message that you don't belong here," said Bynum, the only black member of the House.
A black family in Oakland had the cops called on them for barbecuing in the park. A Yale graduate student was questioned for sleeping in her dorm's common room. And a pair of black men were arrested in a Philadelphia Starbucks after one of them tried to use the restroom, sparking public outcry and the closure of 8,000 stores across the country for "racial bias" training.
Bynum proposed the legislation after being on the receiving ends of such a call. She was canvassing door-to-door for her re-election campaign last year when a woman called 911 because Bynum looked "suspicious."
She said although she was able to get an apology from the woman, she realized that most people have no way to hold these callers accountable.
"This creates a legal pathway to justice for those of us who have to worry about getting the cops called on us for existing in public," she said.