Co-written by TyRon Pope, Retired NYPD Sergeant, Adjunct Lecturer in Criminal Justice at Concordia College and Executive Leadership Ed.D. Candidate, St. John Fisher College
There has been a disturbing pattern where, increasingly, white women are reporting to cops that they've experienced life-threatening events by merely being in the presence of Black and brown folk. And mind you, the white women imposed themselves in the realm of these Black folk.
There is an even more disturbing pattern, where Black folk end up dead because white law enforcement officers, also feeling their lives are threatened by being in the presence of Black folk, employ deadly force.
I'm sure you recall Amy Cooper, aka Central Park Karen, and her encounter with Christian Cooper, where Amy falsely reported to police that Christian threatened her life. If anyone should have been calling the police to report their life was being threatened, it should have been that poor dog, who from the looks of it was nearly choked to death because its owner felt the need to weaponize her whiteness. It has been recently reported that Amy has been charged with filing a false report, a misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in jail.
There are other instances of white women weaponizing their privilege. One of the more recent and memorable instances are Tamara Harrian, aka Phoenix Karen, who had the taste slapped out of her mouth. Tamara stormed into a gas station convenience store, got in the face of and put hands on Karina Rodriguez, got slapped and stormed out, shocked and shook. Karina acted in self-defense but, ironically, was fearful of being racially profiled as the aggressor if she had called the police.
Then there's Susan Schultz, aka Permit Karen, from Montclair, New Jersey. When the Montclair couple, both attorneys, did not respond to Permit Karen’s demands about whether they had a permit to make modifications on their own property, she told cops a Black man assaulted her. Or how about the Hampton Inn worker, dubbed Hampton Inn Karen, who called the police on Anita Williams-Wright because her children were, of all things, swimming in a pool at a hotel where they were registered guests.
There have been so many incidents of "Karens" calling the police, because Black and brown folk did not bow and do meek obeisance, that I have lost track. An interesting project might be to create a "Karen" database. Another interesting outcome of these recent “Karen” events is San Francisco’s proposed Caution Against Racially Exploitative Non-Emergencies or CAREN Act, which makes it illegal to make racially biased 911 calls.
Christian, Karina, the Montclair couple and Anita are the lucky ones. When the "Karens" of this world weaponize the policy of compliance with lawful police orders, the outcome tends toward a dangerous recipe for disaster and, unfortunately, death. Throughout the years, police weaponization exacerbated by the assertions of white women has led to the unjustified deaths and incarcerations of numerous Black men. From Rosewood in 1923 to the Scottsboro Boys in 1931, the execution of George Stinney in 1944 to the unlawful convictions of Darryl Hunt in 1984 and the Central Park Five in 1989, the one commonality they all have in common is the inconceivable claims of white women.
This rush to judgment, tarnished by a pattern and practice of implicit and explicit racial policies embedded into law enforcement, demonized the relationships between the police and communities of color. For decades upon decades, we have seen tragedy, after tragedy, after tragedy, unapologetically set apart from the police and the public. The questions about the attitudes of police towards Black and brown people are deeply rooted in a system of distrust marred by tensions of anxiety and fear, lack of adequate training and diversity amongst the ranks.
Situations may arise where the presence or anticipation of danger can cause a set of uneasiness. An officer can give a person an order and if they disobey it, they can likely be detained, arrested, beaten or even killed. In most instances, people will generally react to lawful orders and obey them by human nature. In the cases for calls of distress, lawful orders are designed for officers to de-escalate a situation and achieve a viable goal. The tendency to stereotype people as being more or less dangerous, reliance on the use of discourtesy and excessive force is a perpetuation of the embedded culture that fosters the problem.
Policing is a dangerous job, and the balance between officer safety and citizens' rights is imperative to avoid potentially deadly outcomes. Everyone should know their rights during an encounter. "Karens" should be held accountable when making false claims and unwarranted calls against Black and brown people.
The fundamental denial of civil rights has been reinforced by the inequality in the justice system, which represents a legacy of mistrust for many Black folk. Therefore, we must reimagine public safety and police, the way we engage and discretion in matters of police encounters. But most of all, the "Karens" of the world have to demystify the issue of race and get to a place where they do not demean people. The last change comes with the culture.