Editorial: Release of Brown video raises questions

  • by BAR Editorial Board
  • Wednesday May 17, 2023
Share this Post:
An image from the Walgreens security video shows Banko Brown being tackled by security guard Michael Earl-Wayne Anthony moments before Anthony shot him. Photo: SF DA's Office
An image from the Walgreens security video shows Banko Brown being tackled by security guard Michael Earl-Wayne Anthony moments before Anthony shot him. Photo: SF DA's Office

San Francisco District Attorney Brooke Jenkins did release the Walgreens video of the shooting death of unarmed Black trans man Banko Brown this week, but it has led to more questions about why she has declined to file charges against the store security guard who shot him. As John Burris, the attorney representing Brown's family, told us, what is viewed on the video could at least be a manslaughter charge. That's what happened in New York City, where white Marine veteran Daniel Penny put Jordan Neely, a Black homeless and mentally ill man, in a fatal chokehold on a subway train after Neely began acting erratically. The Manhattan district attorney charged Penny with manslaughter in the incident. While the two cases are different, it's worth noting that DAs have many tools at their disposal. If Jenkins didn't believe the evidence supported a homicide charge, why didn't she opt for manslaughter instead of declining to prosecute the case? A jury should have decided the self-defense issue.

The nearly six-minute video of Brown's confrontation and ultimate shooting by security guard Michael Earl-Wayne Anthony is disturbing. But it shows, in our opinion, that Brown never presented a reasonable threat to Anthony. The video shows Anthony tackling Brown on the floor inside the store and, seemingly, in control of the situation. It then shows Brown grabbing his bag and heading out of the store, walking backwards as he faces Anthony and briefly points. (Witness accounts say that Brown spat at Anthony; there is no audio on the store video. Anthony tells police officers that Brown threatened to stab him, but no weapon was found and other witness accounts do not mention that threat.) Then Anthony shoots him. The whole episode lasts less than two minutes.

District 10 Supervisor Shamann Walton also has issues with the incident and the report that Jenkins released. "I have watched the video several times, Banko Brown was clearly walking backwards, after being thrown to the ground, punched, and abused by the security guard for several seconds," Walton, who represents District 10, stated, adding that according to the police transcript of officers' interview with Anthony, he was prepared to let Brown go.

"Where is the perceived threat?" Walton asked.

That's what we're having trouble understanding — at least according to the store video, Brown doesn't appear to be threatening Anthony. Yet, Anthony shot him.

We think Jenkins has botched this case so badly that any criminal charge against Anthony at this point likely would be difficult to prove to a jury beyond a reasonable doubt. By quickly stating that Anthony acted in self-defense, as she initially did, Jenkins has basically done the defense's job.

Of course, one of the issues that has come to light in this case is the fact that some stores have armed security guards. District 5 Supervisor Dean Preston last week announced legislation to limit the use of guns by security guards. The legislation will amend the Police Code to clarify that guards are not to unholster their weapons unless there is an actual and specific threat to a person, according to a statement from Preston.

"San Francisco law currently states that private security guards can unholster their weapons — which is considered a serious escalation for any interaction — to protect property," stated Preston. "Property should never be placed above human life and our laws should be crystal clear on that."

Preston's press release explained that although California state law allows security guards to carry guns, San Francisco has its own regulatory scheme for private security guards under Article 25 of the Police Code. Section 1750.20 of the San Francisco Police Code currently states that a guard may "draw or exhibit other than in a holster any handgun ... in response to an actual and specific threat to person and/or property." The supervisor noted that this has drawn sharp criticism from advocates and community members.

We expect this legislation to move ahead in the coming weeks. Unfortunately, it won't bring Brown back but could help avoid future similar outcomes. This case has highlighted the reality that many trans people are living in poverty — as are plenty of other residents — and it's a shame that in a city of wealth like San Francisco, they have to resort to alleged shoplifting just to survive.

Help keep the Bay Area Reporter going in these tough times. To support local, independent, LGBTQ journalism, consider becoming a BAR member.