Some people are referring to Assembly Bill 157 as Nevada’s “Central Park Karen bill.”
Introduced by Assembly member Daniele Monroe-Moreno and co-sponsored by Assembly members Brittney Miller and Cameron Miller and Senators Dallas Harris and Chris Brooks, the bill would allow a person to file a civil lawsuit for damages against any person “who, without reasonable cause, and because of the actual or perceived race, color, religion, national origin, physical or mental disability, sexual orientation or gender identity or expression” called the police on them.
Existing Nevada law makes reporting a false crime based on a person’s perceived race, gender, religion or other factors a misdemeanor.
AB157 would allow a person to file a civil lawsuit, even if a criminal lawsuit is not filed or the false reporter is convicted. Its introduction comes after a high-profile incident in which a woman called the police on a Black man in Central Park in New York last year.
The man, Christian Cooper, was bird watching when he asked the woman, Amy Cooper (no relation), to leash her dog. Christian Cooper pulled out his phone and captured Amy Cooper calling police to report she was being threatened by “an African-American man.” The highly publicized incident earned her the nickname “Central Park Karen”—and eventually resulted in her losing her job.
In a Facebook post following the incident, Christian Cooper laid out what had transpired between the two. He said after her refusal to leash the dog he told her, “Look, if you’re going to do what you want, I’m going to do what I want, but you’re not going to like it.”
She responded, “What’s that?”
He then pulled out a bag of dog treats that he said he carries for “just such intransigence.”
When he pulled out his phone and began recording, she called the cops, saying to the dispatcher, “There’s an African-American man. I’m in Central Park. He is recording me and threatening myself and my dog. Please send the cops immediately!”
The incident was widely cited as another in a series of people of color being accused of wrongdoing while going about generally mundane activities—jogging, walking home from the store or, in this case, birdwatching. In an opinion essay submitted to the Washington Post, Christian Cooper wrote, “The important thing the incident highlights is the long-standing, deep-seated racial bias against us black and brown folk that permeates the United States.”
AB157 passed unanimously out of the Assembly Committee on Judiciary on March 12. Initially, two Republican members of the committee Philip O’Neill and Jim Wheeler were opposed to the bill, but decided to support it after it was amended to add the words “without reasonable cause.” Wheeler said the amendment alleviated his concerns that the bill might cause people to not call the police for fear of being sued.
The bill is supported by Nevada Immigrant Coalition, whose members include the Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada, Mi Familia Vota, Planned Parenthood, the American Civil Liberties Union of Nevada, Battle Born Progress, Indivisible Reno and other organizations.
The coalition provided testimony in support of AB157, writing, “There is a need for action to combat frivolous and malicious complaints to the police. AB157 would enable Nevada to eradicate the practice of racialized police communication.”
This Is Reno reached out to the Reno Police Department for comment on AB157 but had not heard back by the time of publication of this story.
The bill must now pass on the Assembly floor before making its way to the Senate and, eventually, to the desk of Gov. Steve Sisolak.
Jeri Chadwell came to Reno from rural Nevada in 2004 to study anthropology at the University of Nevada, Reno. In 2012, she returned to the university for a master’s degree in journalism. She is the former associate and news editor of the Reno News & Review and is a recipient of first-place Nevada Press Association awards for investigative and business reporting. Jeri is passionate about Nevada’s history, politics and communities.