State Rep. LaTanya Garrett, a wife and mother of three, said her family was top of mind when she wrote legislation introduced in the Michigan Legislature on Wednesday that would make it a felony to falsely report a crime based on a person’s race
Garrett, whose district covers part of Highland Park and Detroit, has, like the rest of us, watched instance after instance of race-based 911 calls over the past year:
That manager at a Pennsylvania Starbucks who called the police on two black men whose crime was sitting and waiting for a friend — and wanting to use the restroom before ordering. The men were handcuffed and arrested. The false arrest led Starbucks to do a day of cultural training.
That LA Fitness manager in New Jersey who called the police after falsely accusing a paid gym member of not paying to work out.
That white parent on a Colorado college tour who called campus police because two Native American teenagers made her nervous.
That Cleveland woman who called police because a 12-year-old boy accidentally cut part of her grass while cutting her neighbor’s.
That San Francisco woman who threatened to call police on an 8-year-old African-American girl for selling water on the sidewalk without a permit. Later dubbed “Permit Patty,” she wound up having to resign as CEO of her health company.
Do we really need legislation to stop racist reporting? Maybe, even in the 21st Century, we do.
“Throughout the country, there has been an influx of calls where black brothers just being black just seems to be a problem,” Garrett said. “Being a black woman having a black husband for 10 years and having three black children, I’m always worried about their safety.
“So I put myself in their shoes and asked: What safety measures are in place to protect black people who are just living everyday life and having law enforcement called on them for no apparent reason?”
Garrett faces an uphill battle to convince an entrenched, mostly white and sometimes insensitive-to-black-issues Legislature that calling the police on someone for breathing, swimming, walking, working out or waiting in a restaurant while black should be a crime.
But as hate continues to rise in America, the bill itself will force a needed conversation about what is happening, what we are allowing and what we are becoming.
And if America refuses to do anything to stem the tide of hate, perhaps a Michigan legislator has found something that other states can emulate: a way to govern haters.
It also might make life easier on law enforcement officers whose time should be spent on real crime, not fake crimes.
Detroit Police Chief James Craig said last spring that he expects his officers to assess whether calls become criminal matters.
“If it’s something that doesn’t rise to the level of a criminal matter, that becomes more of a civil issue,” he said. “We’re not going to be agents for discriminatory treatment. “
Now House Bill 6318 — and the accompanying House Bill 6319, which dictates penalties — will head to committee. If they get out, they will go to the House for a vote.
Then again, if you call the police on a black 8-year-old for selling water outside her apartment building without a permit …
… or you call the police on a black neighbor for entering their own home.
… or call the police on a 12-year-old who accidentally cuts part of your lawn.
… then maybe it won’t be such an uphill slog.