Marc Peeples teaching children about urban farming at Liberated Farms in Detroit. Photo courtesy Liberated Farms.
Marc Peeples teaching children about urban farming at Liberated Farms in Detroit. Photo courtesy Liberated Farms.

Racist 911 calls not only hurt victims, but waste police resources and damage relations between cops and communities they serve, says activist Alisa Parker.

DETROIT, MI — In 2018, Marc Peeples was tending a community farm at the vacant Hunt Playground on Colton Street adjacent to the State Fairgrounds. He planted radishes and taught kids horticulture. And got arrested for gardening while Black.

The case was thrown out, but came about after three white women who disliked the project repeatedly called 911 on him with increasingly dire charges of his “terrorizing the neighborhood” which were entirely invented, Metro Times reported. The 36th District Court Judge E. Lynise Bryant tossed the case, calling it “troubling” and “ridiculous.”

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Peeples briefly filed a lawsuit against the women but settled it, citing the stress the incident placed on his family. But a new proposal from Gov. Gretchen Whitmer would have given him another means to seek justice.

“It was becoming a strain on my family with all the attention,” he told the Detroit News. “I didn’t want all the attention. I just wanted to do something for my family.”

As part of a broader slate of proposed reforms, Gov. Whitmer suggested classifying racially motivated 911 calls on innocent Black Michiganders as hate crimes. 

That actually reflects what Judge Bryant said at the time.

“[The three white women] should be sitting at the defendant’s table for stalking and harassment charges, not Mr. Peeples,” Bryant said during the hearing. “This is disgusting and a waste of the court’s time and resources.”

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That waste of resources is central to why activist Alisa Parker thinks classifying racist 911 calls as hate crimes should be embraced by both sides of the political aisle.

“I feel like this [proposal] is the one where people on both sides of the spectrum can unify,” Parker told The ’Gander. “If you truly believe in law enforcement and what law enforcement is supposed to do … you should also believe the resources for law enforcement shouldn’t be squandered because someone doesn’t like another individual. Even more so because someone doesn’t like the fact that a Black person happens to be around.”

This was exemplified recently by the story of Christian Cooper and Amy Cooper (no relation) who met in Central Park the day of George Floyd’s death. Amy Cooper called 911 on Christian after an argument when he was birdwatching and she was with her dog, making a false police report in a case referred to as “birding while Black.”

Racist 911 calls amount to “weaponizing police,” Parker said, as the intention is to inflict some form of harm on the innocent Black person police are being deployed against. Whether that harm is humiliation, arrest, or worse, it ultimately is still using the police to inflict harm on an innocent person.

Parker, co-founder of ANP Consulting, pointed to narratives like that of Peeples, arguing that the women who called 911 were clearly looking for some kind of negative outcome for the gardener.  

Peeples’ story fits into a larger pattern of white people (mostly white women) calling the police on Black people doing ordinary daily activities, from shopping, babysitting, barbecuing, selling water, not waving at white people, golfing, moving into a nice apartment, to a litany of other ordinary activities. In schools, Black students are more likely to be arrestedor worse — than white students. 

The mass protests following the death of Minneapolis man George Floyd in police custody have brought this trend to a head.

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Making these sorts of calls a hate crime is a matter of accountability, not just for law enforcement but for the bad actors who use them in racist, abusive ways, Parker explained.

“This is about accountability,” she said. “And it’s an easy form of accountability.”

And, Parker pointed out, the use of these 911 calls creates a point of tension between police and Black people that often are out of law enforcement’s control. Responding to those calls paints law enforcement in a negative light, she said, and as a result deepens distrust between police and the communities they serve. 

That tension is justified. Parker described the violence inherent in weaponizing the police. Even when cases don’t end in death, they have a dramatic impact on lives. 

“It’s frustrating to have accusations placed on you with no merit, and they get you all the way into court to go to trial,” Peeples said. “They get to ruin my life, say anything they want, and then they get to go on with their lives.”

And even those not directly involved are affected. The American Psychological Association has called racism a pandemic. Watching police violence against Black people is especially traumatizing for Black children.

“Police have tried to do positive things in the community but have not been received by Black communities in a positive way — this is part of why,” Parker said. “If you’re a law enforcement officer and you’re often getting calls on innocent Black people, you should also be one of the people saying ‘Yeah, there should be some kind of accountability.’”

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Whitmer proposed a larger package of police reforms, ranging from ending the use of chokeholds to requiring implicit bias training for officers. 

“People across Michigan have been calling for changes to police practices, and these actions are clear steps in the direction of needed reform,” said Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist in a statement. “These reforms will help us build a more just and equitable law enforcement system and ensure the safety of Black Michiganders across the state.”