John Crawford was the victim of a race hoax by Ronald Ritchie, a white customer in Wal-mart, who falsely reported to police that John Crawford had pointed a gun at children and other customers in the store. John Crawford was a 22-year-old Black man and died, when police officers entered Wal-mart and opened fire without question upon his person.
The use of false crime reports in weaponizing law enforcement against the African American community is firmly rooted in history as a white supremacist tradition and tactic, deputizing common white citizens in the subjugation of Blacks through lynching, legal or otherwise—playing to the “black man is criminal” stereotype. In the past decade, we have seen a resurgence in the practice. Race hoaxes broadly fall into two categories. A false complaint about a specific individual that is Black for a non-criminal offense or to raise suspicion of general criminal activity involving the individual. The second category is a false complaint about a fabricated individual that is Black for a real crime to draw attention from a White offender, playing to biases within the justice system.
The consequence to victims of racial hoaxes, range from the inconvenience of answering allegations of criminal conduct by police to the risk of physical harm of police brutality or in the case of John Crawford, execution. Moreover, it creates a climate of acrimony between African Americans and law enforcement, who are similarly situated as victims of careful manipulation by third-party white supremacists. The misappropriation of police resources to sort through false complaints also increases police neglect of true crime.
We propose increasing the penalty for race-based false reports of crime. The law in most states treat false reports as a misdemeanor with penalties ranging from fines to a few months incarceration. The penalty for race based false reports should include a felony conviction and mandatory listing in “The Cry Wolf Registry” with the length of registration based on severity of false report. Similar to the sex offender registry, offenders would have to register with state authorities as a “Cry Wolf” offender with their names and locations available to the public. “Cry Wolf” offenders would be mandated to notify residents of their presence in neighborhoods, with African American residents. The registry would also create exclusion zones, barring “Cry Wolf” offenders from businesses and public locations that could conceivably have an African American presence.
We suspect that the “Cry Wolf” felony and registry will serve as a powerful deterrent for white supremacists and irresponsible White citizens that endanger the public and waste police resources with their race-based false police reports. The “Cry Wolf” felony and registry will reduce the prevalence of such crimes and improve public safety.