We joke a lot about Karens and their male counterparts. We give them funny nicknames like, “BBQ Becky” and “Permit Patty,” and we enjoy indulging in our own wit and pettiness—roasting roast-worthy people is kind of our thing—it’s part of the culture. But don’t get it twisted: we also call for them to be fired from their jobs and to be charged with crimes, but through all our levity, it’s easy to forget how dangerous these people are and the threat that their “respect my non-existent authority over you” mentality poses to Black people who are just trying to go on about our business. We forget that the killing of Trayvon Martin started with George Zimmerman’s big Karen energy.
On June 9 in Seffner, Fla., 54-year-old Luis Santos stopped his car after he spotted a Black teenage boy riding his bike to an early-morning basketball practice. Santos demanded to know the child’s address and then illegally detained him. What’s worse? He lied to 911 dispatch, identifying himself as an “off-duty officer” and falsely claiming he had the teen on video committing crimes. On Saturday, Santos was arrested and charged with false imprisonment.
From WFLA 8:
Cell phone video provided to 8 On Your Side shows Santos pull up to the teen and tell him, “you’re not going anywhere.” The man grills the teen about his address and asks why he is on his bicycle so early in the morning.
“You’re being detained,” the man says in the video that he recorded.
He then gets out of his vehicle and detains the boy.
“I’m sorry,” the teen says.
“You’re sorry?” Santos asks.
Later, Santos called 911 and said, “I have somebody breaking into cars. We have it on video.”
When a 911 operator asks the teen’s race, the man replies, “he’s a Black guy.”
The teen was never accused of that crime, the state attorney’s office said.
“You stay right where you at!” the man yells at the teen, as heard on the 911 call.
“I think he stole one of the bikes,” Santos said to the 911 operator.
He later identified himself to the 911 operator as an off-duty officer.
According to the Washington Post, when police arrived at the scene they almost immediately found that nothing Santos told them was true. He was not a police officer but rather a former security guard. Santos also had no video evidence of the teen breaking into cars.
WFLA 8 reports that on July 20, the victim, who wishes to remain anonymous, was interviewed by prosecutors, and the next day, Hillsborough State Attorney Andrew Warren approved a felony charge of third-degree false imprisonment for Santos, which is punishable by up to five years in prison.
“The evidence shows the victim had not committed any crime and Santos made misleading statements to law enforcement about what he had witnessed,” Warren’s office said in an email to WFLA 8.
“The young man felt threatened and was not free to leave, while Santos acted as though he had the legal authority of a law enforcement officer, including compelling the victim to put his hands in the air until sheriff’s deputies arrived.”
Warren’s office also said that “The victim was visibly shaken and hyperventilating when deputies arrived, with his hands still over his head.”
Attempting to weaponize the police against Black people who have committed no crime is indeed Karen behavior, but it’s more than that. It’s racist, life-threatening and potentially traumatic for unsuspecting victims. It should be treated with the same seriousness as any other criminal behavior.