Khoa Lam, a Vietnamese immigrant who grew up in Davis and recently passed his residency to become a doctor and landed a position in Dallas, was visiting his parents this week in Davis at the Moore Village Apartment complex when he twice fell victim to a phenomenon now popularly referred to as being “Karened”—having someone call the police on a person of color out of unreasonable suspicion.
Officers Hatcher and Ramos, two female officers with the Davis Police Department, arrived but Dr. Lam found them unsympathetic.
Dr. Lam spoke with the Vanguard on Saturday, and the incident happened on Friday around 6 pm when he was taking a walk out by the apartments where his parents live. He was Facetiming with his wife, who was visiting her family in Philadelphia as he was visiting his here.
As he was talking, he saw a lady mouthing something him. He asked her if there was something she needed, “She said something like ‘you can’t be walking around here.’” She added, he said, “You don’t belong here.”
“What?” he said. “I’m visiting family.”
At this point he said to his wife that he had to hang up so he could record it.
The lady told him, “You need to leave right now.” And repeated, “You don’t belong here.”
Then she asked if he knew anyone here, and he responded yes, his parents. “Then she asked, where are your parents? That’s when I was thinking, I don’t need to answer any of this stuff. I wasn’t doing anything illegal. I don’t look suspicious. I was just walking around the paths where anyone can walk. I lived there for four years during medical school from 2008 to 2013.
“I had never encountered anything like this,” he said. “There was no reason for my presence to cause any questions.”
He told her he would not answer any more of her questions as he started his recording. At this point she left and claimed she would call the police.
“I was like, what, you’re going to call the cops on me for looking suspicious?” he said. “I was like, call the cops. I’m waiting here.”
He said he was so upset that he immediately posted this encounter on his Facebook page. But it wasn’t over yet.
“I was pretty shaken up by the whole incident,” he said.
The video he posted, about one minute, shows the lady in front of her apartment suggesting, “You don’t belong here” and asking, “Do you know someone here?”
“Yeah I do,” he said.
“Where are you visiting?” she asked.
“My parents,” he responded.
“Where is that?” she asked.
“Where are my parents? Why do I have to explain to you?” he asked. His voice was calm, in fact, he sounded remarkably the same as he did on the phone interview, with the same cadence, tempo and demeanor.
At this point she walked away and said, “I don’t think you need to be videotaping.”
He told her, “You call the police.”
He was in the middle of posting the event while waiting, in case the lady actually called the police so he could present his case. Fifteen minutes later a second person, a man, got in his face and demanded to know what he was doing there.
As he described it to the Vanguard, the man was confrontational.
“My neighbor told me you were videotaping the whole place,” the man said.
“What the hell,” he was thinking. The man started asking questions and Dr. Lam again is thinking, “I don’t have to answer any of these questions.”
He told the man, “You can call the cops if you want, but I don’t have to answer anything.”
He said, “There was no reason for him to even accuse me of taking photos of people’s cars or houses.” He said, “I don’t have to answer to anybody.” At this point, all he was doing was texting family and friends about what had previously happened.
“He’s not a cop. He’s not a neighborhood watch. He’s nobody,” he said. “He called the cops on me. I was furious.”
The video shows the man calling the police, “There is a man walking around my apartment complex. He’s taking photos of people’s houses. I walked up and asked him and he got very standoffish, won’t answer any of my questions, he’s videotaping me now.”
When the man went in, Dr. Lam said he got his ID and wallet out and stood outside waiting for the cops.
At this point, as indicated above, Officer Hatcher and Officer Ramos arrived, two white female police officers. Officer Hatcher came up and asked what happened.
“I told them I’m a doctor, I’m visiting my parents here,” he said. His friends had recommended that he tell the cops that he’s a doctor because “it lends more credibility that he’s not a criminal. He’s a good citizen trying to help people.”
Dr. Lam had just finished his fellowship in neuroradiology at the University of Washington at Seattle. He completed that work and just landed a job in Dallas, TX, where he starts on August 3. In between, he has spent two weeks in Davis.
He came to the U.S. in 2000 from Vietnam, coming to Sacramento for a few years and moving to Davis a few years later.
Dr. Lam said he told Officer Ramos what happened, and his parents also came out to talk to the police. He told her that he hadn’t been doing anything and was “falsely accused.” The second person “interrogated me and falsely accused me.”
Dr. Lam said “at that point I was pretty worked up.”
The officer said, “You repeatedly asked him to call the cops. He didn’t know what to do. So he ended up calling the cops.”
Dr. Lam said he was baffled by this, believing the man had gotten into his face and was confrontational and accusatory.
“He called the cops on me and now is blaming me for pushing him to call the cops,” he told the Vanguard.
He said that Officer Hatcher told him, “It’s about perspectives. To you, you don’t look suspicious and aren’t doing anything suspicious. To them, you look suspicious and were doing something suspicious. And all they were asking was for some clarification.”
Dr. Lam said that he responded, “Do I look like a terrorist or a vandal or something like that?”
She started laughing. “Do you know what terrorists look like?”
“I was in utter shock at the way she handled my situation,” he said. He said that she was basically blaming him for being uncooperative with the other citizens about his situation. Dr. Lam said that he wanted the officer to allow him to talk with them to explain that he wasn’t doing anything wrong, but she advised against it and told him he should just let the matter rest.
The Vanguard asked Chief Darren Pytel if he was aware of the incident—he was able to find the call but would not be able to view the police body cam until Monday.
The term “Karen” has crept into American lexicon after the incident in which Amy Cooper in Central Park called the police on a man she said was harassing her, but the accusations were revealed to be false.
The term now refers to a woman or person “perceived to be entitled or demanding beyond the scope of what is considered appropriate or necessary.”
—David M. Greenwald reporting