The push to reform policing is moving on multiple fronts. Not only are governments across America targeting law-enforcement agencies; they’re also imposing new regulations on society. In mid-June, Gov. Cuomo signed into law State Senate Bill 8492, which imposes a civil penalty for calling the cops on a black person, or any other member of a “protected class,” when there’s “no reason to believe a crime or offense, or imminent threat to person or property, is occurring.”
It was prompted by the Amy Cooper affair. Cooper is a white New Yorker, who, on Memorial Day in Central Park, called police over a dispute with Christian Cooper, a black man unrelated to her. His bird-watching was disrupted by her dog running free (illegally), and she interpreted his request that she leash her dog as a threat.
More broadly, the law targets “Karenism.” The stereotype of a “Karen” is a middle-aged, middle-class white woman excessively attuned to small inconveniences and signs of disorder. She may sometimes call 911, but she’s more often seen asking to “speak to the manager.” Entitled and incapable of minding her own business, she inflicts misery on low-level retail and service workers.
In short, a Karen is a busybody. Traditionally, the busybody was a type associated with small-town life. Big cities, by contrast, promised anonymity and liberation. But to contend with the risks of crime and disorder, cities eventually had to embrace the benefits of busybodiness, as ably explained in that urtext of Karenism, Jane Jacobs’ “The Death and Life of Great American Cities.” Jacobs famously celebrated nosy neighbors’ and shopkeepers’ “eyes on the street” as a form of community peacekeeping that obviated the need for a robust police presence. Jacobs relates an incident in which a crowd of neighborhood residents descended on “a suppressed struggle going on between a man and a little girl of 8 or 9 years old.” The man was trying to persuade the girl to come along with him. Though it turned out that the man was the girl’s father, Jacobs nonetheless cites approvingly the community’s forthright response as showing how the system should work. One wonders how a similar incident would be viewed nowadays were the man black and the assertive neighbors white.
Photo by Christine McCann/iStock