Still stung by a 911 complaint lodged against him when he was campaigning for re-election, state Sen. Jesse Hamilton announced that he plans to introduce legislation to increase the criminal penalties against people who file false police reports or call 911 for frivolous reasons.
Under Hamilton’s bill, calling 911 under false pretenses would be classified as a hate crime in New York State.
Hamilton, a Democrat who represents a portion of Brooklyn including Sunset Park, Crown Heights, Prospect-Lefferts Gardens and Park Slope, said his aim is to combat the misuse of 911.
“Living while black is not a crime. But making a false report, especially motivated by hate, should be. Our laws should recognize that false reports with hateful intent can have deadly consequences,” said Hamilton, who is black.
Hamilton announced his legislation at a press conference that took place on Aug. 15 outside the Prospect Park station of the Q subway line in Prospect-Lefferts Gardens, the same spot where a woman summoned police to the scene when Hamilton was handing out campaign literature to voters a week earlier.
Hamilton said he found the incident disturbing.
He said he was speaking with voters outside the Prospect Park subway station on Aug. 9 when a woman who identified herself as a supporter of President Donald Trump accused Hamilton of giving too much support to undocumented immigrants. The woman, who told Hamilton she objected to the senator speaking against the president, then called 911.
Police from the 71st Precinct arrived at the scene and patiently explained to the woman that Hamilton had done nothing illegal. No arrests were made.
The incident follows a troubling pattern of episodes across the country in which people have called 911 to summon police to investigate African-Americans who are simply going about their normal daily business and not bothering anyone, Hamilton said.
“People of color should be able to wait for a friend at a coffee shop in peace. That’s not an emergency at a Philadelphia Starbucks for 911. People of color should be able to knock on doors and hand out campaign lit in peace. That’s not an emergency for 911 in Oregon or here in Brooklyn. Oregon lawmaker Janelle Bynum’s knocking on doors in July and my handing out literature at this subway stop last week were not emergencies,” Hamilton said.
“These 911 calls are more than frivolous. These 911 calls amount to more than just a waste of police time and resources. These 911 calls are acts of intimidation,” Hamilton added.
To bolster his point, Hamilton listed a litany of recent incidents across the U.S involving innocent African-Americans who were the targets of 911 calls, including an incident in April in which two black men at a Philadelphia Starbucks being reported to the police and arrested, and another incident in July in which a Smith College employee called police on a student who was eating her lunch.
In July, Oregon, state Rep. Janelle Bynum was knocking on doors when a neighbor called 911 on her, Hamilton said.
Hamilton, who was first elected to the state Senate in 2014, is running for re-election. A member of the Independent Democratic Conference in the Senate — which caucused separately from the other Democrats until April when it was dissolved, and which many Democrats blame for the GOP’s control of the legislative body at certain points — he faces a primary challenge from Zellnor Myrie, a lawyer and civic activist in Prospect-Lefferts Gardens.
The Democratic Primary is on Tuesday, Sept. 13.