Women's center, stepmom remember Banko Brown 1 year after killing

  • by John Ferrannini, Assistant Editor
  • Wednesday May 1, 2024
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Banko Brown was remembered by his former colleagues at Young Women's Freedom Center on the one-year anniversary of his shooting.
Banko Brown was remembered by his former colleagues at Young Women's Freedom Center on the one-year anniversary of his shooting.

Colleagues and family are remembering Banko Brown on the one-year anniversary of his death. The 24-year-old unarmed and unhoused Black trans man was shot dead last April 27 by a security guard at a Market Street Walgreens.

In perhaps the most controversial decision of her tenure so far, San Francisco District Attorney Brooke Jenkins opted not to pursue criminal charges against Michael Earl-Wayne Anthony, the security guard employed by Kingdom Group Protective Services who worked at the downtown drugstore. He was initially arrested by San Francisco Police Department officers on suspicion of homicide but was released.

Since last year, California Attorney General Rob Bonta's office has been conducting an inquiry about Jenkins' decision. A spokesperson did not return a request for comment from the Bay Area Reporter on April 30.

In mid-December a spokesperson for Bonta had stated that "the review remains ongoing and we have no updates to share at this point." When asked by the B.A.R. at that time when the report might be finished, the spokesperson stated, "that's all the information that we can provide at this time, but happy to keep you in the loop should updates become available."

The DA's office did not respond to a request for comment.

Brown had worked as an organizer at the Young Women's Freedom Center. Julia Arroyo, the executive director of the center, remembered Brown in an April 29 press statement.

"At Young Women's Freedom Center, we remember Banko often. His picture is on our five altars across the state and we gather regularly to share sweet memories. On every one of those occasions, we are left feeling angry and frustrated that very little has been done to prevent more senseless deaths of young trans people," Arroyo stated.

"Banko's life was worth so much more than what it was taken for. In the face of adversity, he was resilient and courageous," Arroyo added. "He fearlessly fought for the rights and dignity of trans people, and left an everlasting mark on YWFC and the movement as a whole. He deserved a world more than what was stolen from him."

Brown was shot at the Walgreens located at 825 Market Street around 6:30 p.m. April 27, 2023 after allegedly attempting to shoplift $15 worth of candy. Anthony, the security guard, was contracted by the retailer through Kingdom Group.

A 5-minute, 58-second store surveillance video released by the DA's office, taken from an overhead camera, shows that Brown, trying to leave the store, was pushed by Anthony, who punched Brown and subdued him as Brown tried to get away.

Other people can be seen nonchalantly going about their shopping.

Brown was subdued for about 50 seconds, at which time Anthony let him go. Then Brown grabbed his bag and left, backing out of the store and pointing at Anthony. Brown then put his arms to his side and moved slightly, at which point Anthony shot him.

The video was released following the public outcry after Jenkins declined to charge Anthony.

Announcing her decision in a May 1, 2023 statement, Jenkins explained that the evidence in the case at that time did "not meet the people's burden to be able to prove beyond a reasonable doubt to a jury that the suspect is guilty of a crime. The evidence clearly shows that the suspect believed he was in mortal danger and acted in self-defense."

Arroyo wrote about the toll Brown's death has taken.

"Every parent and community member in California has to live with the chilling knowledge that he was shot and killed by a security guard at Walgreens for allegedly stealing $14 worth of candy," Arroyo stated. "And those who think this could never happen to their kids or their neighbors' have to know that they are wrong."

Following Brown's death, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors adopted a resolution asking the federal justice department and Bonta's office to determine whether to press charges against Anthony. The feds demurred to Bonta's office, as the B.A.R. reported last July.

Lawsuit filed

The Brown family filed a $25 million wrongful death suit against Walgreens, Kingdom Group, and Anthony in San Francisco Superior Court. They are being represented by longtime civil rights attorney John Burris.

Burris told the B.A.R. that the litigation is moving forward.

"It's been a year and it's been very difficult for the family to adjust to his passing and the circumstances of his passing, and we are moving full speed ahead on the litigation," Burris said in a phone interview. "We've identified all the parties involved and we hold one lasting ramification is we bring about positive change, positive reforms, as it relates to Walgreens and the security company, that they institute better training and that those who carry guns are trained on how to de-escalate. It's still a tragedy Banko Brown lost his life in the manner in which he did."

Brown's father, Terry, referred the B.A.R. to stepmother Barbara Brown for a comment on behalf of the family. In a brief phone interview she said, "We will not stop until justice is found for Banko Brown."

The events of the past year have been difficult for the family to process, she said.

"You know how you start to process something and come to the realization something did occur and you have to reprocess? It's a recurring emotion that's being felt. Terry mentioned 'Today Banko was here, and tomorrow she's gone," Barbara Brown said, referring to Banko with female pronouns and saying he was Banko "to the world."

"If you look at it, that is what it was," Brown continued. "It's a never-healing process because it's always going to come up. Her spirit is very strong. She is dearly missed for sure."

Brown said that "it just feels so unfair she is in heaven, not present with us, but her killer is roaming the streets, walking around like everything is normal, but nothing happened to him.

"Just the other day another news reporter came out with something, that [security camera] video, and it doesn't show he was in fear," Brown continued. "It's just a lot, the emotions are really, really, really deep and the feelings are very concerning. There are things being done but maybe it's not fast enough. You start to process and have to reprocess again. It's a never-ending cycle of healing and processing. You'll never get used to it, you'll just have to bear it. We miss her a lot. Life is gone too soon."

In October, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors passed an ordinance limiting security personnel from drawing their weapons. District 5 Supervisor Dean Preston, a straight ally, cited Brown's killing as the basis to amend the police code to prohibit armed security guards from drawing or exhibiting firearms to protect property. The weapons may be in a holster.

Continuing her statement, Arroyo said Brown's death is an indictment: of Walgreens, and of San Francisco.

"We all have to be deeply concerned about the killing of Banko Brown," Arroyo stated. "We have to think about it as a testament to where we are as a country and as a state. We have to know this is what San Francisco is like. It is what Walgreens is like. I hope as you take a moment to remember Banko, you feel angry about this. And take what actions you can to protect poor and Black trans youth."

Arroyo also took the opportunity to express disagreement with efforts to repeal or make substantial changes to Proposition 47. Dubbed by its supporters the Safe Neighborhoods and Schools Act, Prop 47 was passed by California voters in the November 2014 election by a margin of 60% to 40%, and recategorized certain nonviolent offenses, including some property crimes, as misdemeanors.

"In fact, right now in California, legislators are working hard to repeal Prop 47, a law that protects people struggling for survival from disproportionate punishment over survival crimes," Arroyo stated. "This hyphenates a nationwide fixation with tougher-on-crime responses instead of addressing the real reasons young people have to meet their needs in these ways."

As the B.A.R. previously reported, there's been an increased willingness to make changes to Prop 47 to combat retail theft. At a Noe Valley town hall in February, Jenkins said, "I think we started to erode the tools that law enforcement had, as a state, to be able to prosecute theft crimes effectively. One of the mechanisms that caused that was Prop 47, and we have to acknowledge that, and I'm not saying that I disagree with the spirit of what Prop 47 was intending to do ... but what it did was, when it raised the threshold [for felony larceny] from $450 to $950, it created far more misdemeanor crimes at the same time the Legislature was watering down the penalties for misdemeanor crimes."

Walgreens cut ties with Kingdom Group in the weeks after the shooting. Neither returned requests for comment.

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