Swatting is a Hate Crime

Kevin A. Thompson
April 12, 2023

Swatting is a hate crime. What is “swatting?” Swatting means to call the police on another person, claiming this other person is involved in dangerous criminal activity, and that the police should arrive with guns drawn to neutralize the imaginary threat.

As any American could predict, people often get shot when the SWAT (Special Weapons and Tactics) team shows up.  Sometimes a cop gets shot by a homeowner, who is also armed, doesn’t realize their home is being invaded by law enforcement and shoots in self-defense. 

To be fair, the victims of swatting can be of any race or community. White people, transactivists, Black people and others have all been victims of swatting.

Take a recent incident, a few weeks go, at Harvard University.  Four seniors were rousted out of bed at 2am. They shared a suite and the caller, claiming to be a former student, called 9-1-1  three times that night, saying a kidnapping was occuring. The caller gave detailed information about the dorm suite and its inhabitants. The campus police said they had called two of the students in advance, but both students said they were asleep and did not answer the calls.

The police brought the four students, all Black, into the hallway with their hands up.  For the four students, this was humiliating. None were involved in any criminal activity. They had not been discipline problems in their first three years at Harvard. An arrest could jeopardize their college career and future job prospects, not to mention the risk of physical harm when armed cops show up. 

The 9-1-1 caller had known the Black students’ suite number, and apparently their race.  In fact, the caller insisted on providing details to the 911 dispatcher, meaning the caller probably was a former student.  As a predominantly White university, the Black students’ race would have stood out enough for someone to target them for their race.

That makes this swatting incident a racial hate crime.

Here’s another example from 2018, involving the actor Ving Rhames. A neighbor called 911 to report a “burglary” at the Rhames home. Mr. Rhames’ two bulldogs, who stayed in the fenced-off back yard, had apparently not even barked when this alleged burglary was taking place.

Mr. Rhames answered his front door to have a laser-sight pointed at his forehead from a police firearm.  Thankfully, the police believed him and realized the call was false and malicious. Ving Rhames said the only bright side was that his teenaged son had not answered the door. The boy might not have kept his cool, overreacted and provided an excuse for the police to pull the trigger.  

And what of the 911 caller? A neighbor who had lived next door to the Rhames family for several years and somehow did not recognize Mr. Rhames in his own backyard.  Or did they know exactly that Mr Rhames was entering his own house and trying to bring harm to him anyway? This was a swatting call for sure, and a targeted racial hate crime as well.

To their credit, some police departments are recognizing the dangers of swatting to them and the community. A false swatting call sucks up limited police resources from any real crimes that may be occurring at the same time.  There is the danger that the law-abiding swatting victims will act to defend themselves.  Many police have demonstrated, in incidents that are not as widely reported, that they have no desire to target, arrest or harm innocent people; and actually want to have good relations with the community. Once they realize a 911 call is false and/or malicious, they apologize to the victims.

But that does not excuse any person who cowardly uses law enforcement to inflict harm on other people.  That is a crime of hate. 


“Traumatized: Harvard Students held at gunpoint in ‘Swatting’ Incident” by Cheyanne M. Daniels, The Hill -April 6, 2023, the hill.com

“Actor Ving Rhames said Neighbor Called  911 to Report him as Large Black Man Breaking In,” by Farnough Amiri, NBCnews.com, July 29, 2018.