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OPINION: Hamilton right to be angry, but new law not necessary

August 22, 2018 Brooklyn Daily Eagle
State Sen. Jesse Hamilton (at podium) says recent 911 calls reporting African-Americans “are acts of intimidation.” Photo courtesy of State Sen. Jesse Hamilton’s campaign
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No one can blame state Sen. Jesse Hamilton for being angry.

A Brooklyn woman who appears to be a few fries short of a Happy Meal called 911 earlier this month because the senator, who is running for reelection, was handing out campaign literature to potential voters outside the Prospect Park station of the Q subway line in Prospect-Lefferts Gardens.

The caller, who said she is a supporter of President Donald Trump, told Hamilton he gives too much support to undocumented immigrants. She added that she objected to his speaking against the president, before allegedly calling 911.

Hamilton plans to introduce legislation to increase the criminal penalties against people who file false police reports or call 911 for frivolous reasons. The senator, who is black, said what the woman did was a hate crime: “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,” he said.

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There are two problems with his proposal. First, it is already a crime to knowingly make a false report to 911. This wastes the time of police, firefighters and other emergency responders. His law would require the courts to judge the motivation of the caller in order to increase the penalty.

In this case, the fact that the caller remained and spoke with the police leads us to believe that the woman actually believed this was a 911 emergency. Fortunately, police from the 71st Precinct arrived at the scene and patiently explained to her that Hamilton had done nothing illegal. No arrests were made.

Second, calling this a “hate crime” waters down the seriousness of hate-crime legislation which is intended to address the vilest of acts.

The 911 call is just one of a growing pattern of incidents in which police were called to investigate African-Americans who are simply going about their daily business. The most famous of these was the arrest in April of two black men who refused leave a Starbucks in Philadelphia.

“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,” Hamilton said.

The two men arrested at the Philadelphia Starbucks settled for a symbolic $1 each and a promise from officials to set up a $200,000 program for young managers. “We thought long and hard about it and we feel like this is the best way to see that change that we want to see,” they said.

—Jack Ryan

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