VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (WAVY) — A bill introduced in the Virginia General Assembly’s special session aims to make false 911 calls based on discriminatory behavior a hate crime.
HB 5098 passed in the House of Delegates earlier this week and is currently being reviewed in the Senate.
Del. Alex Askew, who represents the 85th District out of Virginia Beach, says the bill would make it a crime to call emergency services based on race, religious conviction, gender, disability, gender identity, sexual orientation, color, or national origin.
“Hopefully it will dissuade people from calling the police and make them think twice before calling the police on someone walking down the street that they don’t think belongs there,” he said.
The bill would expand hate crimes to include this type of behavior as well as increase the punishment for a false report from a class 1 misdemeanor to a class 6 felony.
Askew says the punishment would not include a mandatory minimum. Instead, it would be up to the judge to sentence jail time.
Askew’s inspiration for the bill came from recent incidents that have played out time and time again across the country, some of them ending fatally.
“I think we’ve seen over the past few months and years in cases of Trayvon Martin, Ahmaud Arbery, the individual in Central Park, individuals have taken to 911 to get some sort of recourse or make a false report. I truthfully think that should be a hate crime,” he said.
While the incidents have been more publicized in recent years, Askew says the treatment to various groups is nothing new.
“I think we see it more and more now because everyone walks around with a cell phone camera,” he said. “I don’t think it’s a new occurrence. We’re capturing it firsthand and it deeply saddens me.”
Askew believes that false emergency calls take away from emergency responders’ ability to respond to real emergencies.
“We have resources that are spread thin sometimes so, we don’t want police to go out there if they don’t have to. We want people to call police for the right reasons, if there’s an emergency, if there’s a fire, if there’s an actual assault taking place. We don’t want to stretch thin already thinly-stretched resources,” he said.
The bill was referred to the Committee of the Judiciary. Askew hopes it’s passed so Gov. Ralph Northam can sign it into law to make the commonwealth a more just place for all residents.
“I hope we can continue the mission of our modern Civil Rights leaders. Martin Luther King Jr. said we should judge people by their character and not the color of their skin. So hopefully we continue that mission and continue to see folks for who they truly are, no what they look like or what religion they practice of who they chose to love. Hopefully, we can continue the mission of equality and equitity across the commonwealth and in the 85th district of Virginia Beach,” he said.