Stacey Patton and Anthony Paul Farley suggest how we can use existing laws to create some consequences for White folks who call the police on Black people as a tool of control and terror.
But places of public accommodation — whether it’s a Philadelphia Starbucks or a Yale dorm — may neither bar nor eject people based on race. It is absolutely not trespass to stand one’s ground against a race-based ejection from a place of public accommodation. It is, by definition, false arrest to remove or detain a non-trespasser for the crime of trespass. This extends to colleges, Airbnbs, golf courses, apartment complexes and most of the other spaces that have been in the news lately. If a person has a right to be in these places, that right cannot be withdrawn by owners, property managers, neighbors or anyone else because of race.
And in fact, existing laws could be used to prevent people from making these kinds of calls.It is a crime to file a false police report. When places of public accommodation enlist the police to remove people based on race, the owners and managers should be investigated and prosecuted for filing false police reports. At the Philly Starbucks, the Yale dorm, the golf course or the Oakland park, the police investigation should have focused on the frivolous and possibly criminal abuses of the 911 emergency system rather than on the people who were doing nothing wrong when someone called about them.
Civil law also provides ways to strike back at those who make 911 calls just to report the presence of a black person. Black people could sue callers for defamation or malicious prosecution — for reporting to the authorities that they’re “threatening” or somehow don’t belong in a space they have a right to be in.
In some cases, lawsuits could be filed for intentional infliction of emotional distress. Many state and municipal laws protect civil rights better than their federal equivalents; suits could be brought under these laws in some cases, too.
Right now, calling 911 on innocent black people is a costless form of indulgence in racialized fear — or worse, racist amusement. But lawsuits and publicity might make callers think twice and decrease the danger of false arrest and death.