City councilwoman proposes legislation criminalizing racially motivated 911 calls

Philadelphia City Council member Cherelle Parker. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

Philadelphia City Council member Cherelle Parker. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

This story originally appeared on The Philadelphia Tribune.

City Councilwoman Cherelle Parker has introduced legislation that would criminalize discriminatory 911 calls.

The bill clarifies that it is a hate crime – complete with penalties for criminal conduct – to misuse the 911 emergency response system if one is motivated by a hatred of other persons based on certain characteristics such as race or ethnicity.

Similar bills have been attracting support around the country.

The legislation was inspired by a May 25 incident, where a white woman called 911 on a Black man in New York City’s Central Park. Amy Cooper called to report that she was being threatened by “an African American man.” The man, Christian Cooper, who birdwatching, videotaped the incident and it was posted on Twitter.

Before Amy Cooper called 911, she said, “I’m calling the cops … I’m gonna’ tell them there’s an African-American man threatening my life.”

Parker’s proposal follows several incidents across the nation where white people have called the police on Black people who were engaged in everyday activities and weren’t doing anything wrong.

“What these past few months have shown with tragic clarity is that sometimes when someone calls the police for help, it can result in loss of life,” Parker said in a news release.

“911 should only be used during true emergencies and certainly not as a weapon under false pretenses and against a person of color.”

The councilwoman has also introduced a bill to ensure that entities cannot use credit scores to screen out job applicants.

The bill amends a portion of the Code titled “Unlawful Credit Screening Practices in Employment,” and removes existing exemptions for both law enforcement agencies and financial institutions. This means that all employers, including law enforcement agencies and financial institutions, will be prohibited from obtaining or using credit-related information, such as credit scores, to evaluate employees and job applicants in most circumstances.

According to Philadelphia Police Department statistics, nearly 70 percent of applicants who show up to orientation are Black, Hispanic and Asian or other and 31 percent of applicants are white. Last year, 71 percent of recruits who were accepted into the police academy were white and only 20 percent were people of color.

People of color have been disproportionately eliminated from job consideration due to poor credit scores.

“Part of making our businesses and law enforcement more reflective of our city’s makeup is removing barriers to middle-class jobs such as those in the financial sector and law enforcement,” said Parker, noting that one third of the city’s population is white, while 59 percent of Philadelphia’s police officers are white.

“Eliminating potentially qualified job applicants based on their credit history is discriminatory.”

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