Editorial: Jenkins must release Brown video

  • Wednesday May 10, 2023
Share this Post:
A memorial to Banko Brown was on view Monday, May 1, before the start of a rally and vigil in support of the trans man who was killed by a Walgreens security guard last month. Photo: John Ferrannini<br><br>
A memorial to Banko Brown was on view Monday, May 1, before the start of a rally and vigil in support of the trans man who was killed by a Walgreens security guard last month. Photo: John Ferrannini

When you've got two gay elected leaders who were among your staunchest supporters calling for the release of video in the Banko Brown shooting, as San Francisco District Attorney Brooke Jenkins has, it's time to disclose the footage. Brown, an unhoused trans man, was fatally shot by a Walgreens security guard outside of the store at 875 Market Street last month. While the guard, Michael Earl-Wayne Anthony, was arrested by police and charged on suspicion of one count of homicide, Jenkins announced last week that her office dismissed the charge because evidence showed that Anthony was acting in self-defense. That has drawn intense criticism because Brown was unarmed, according to San Francisco police.

Jenkins told us during a 10-minute phone interview May 4 that based on the video she has seen, the incident began as shoplifting and escalated to a robbery. She told us police continue to investigate the case. One of Brown's friends and supporters, Julia Arroyo, the co-executive director of the Young Women's Freedom Center, told us it looked like Brown was allegedly stealing about $14 worth of candy. (Brown had been an unpaid intern at the center.)

This case touches on the ever-present issues of race, class, homelessness, alleged shoplifting, and the LGBTQ community, as we noted in our report. Last week, Board of Supervisors President Aaron Peskin, who represents District 3, called on Jenkins to reconsider her decision not to press charges against Anthony. This week, that was changed to the supervisors now calling for the release of the video. As the San Francisco Standard reported, gay District 4 Supervisor Joel Engardio co-sponsored that resolution, which is nonbinding. Nevertheless, it's significant that Engardio, who is more of a moderate and represents the Sunset on the city's westside, signed on. He strongly backed Jenkins in last year's election and supported the recall of former district attorney Chesa Boudin.

Gay state Senator Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco), another high-profile supporter of Jenkins in the 2022 election, has changed his position in the Brown case. Significantly, Wiener pointed to comments Anthony made, also in the Standard, that result in his believing there is "significant doubt" that Anthony acted in self-defense. Wiener has also called for video and witness statements to be released. Initially, Wiener had stated that he was closely monitoring the case and called for transparency, but stopped short of supporting the release of video and other materials.

We, too, believe that Jenkins should release the video. Transparency is critical, and this case has been full of murky information that later turned out to be inaccurate, such as that Brown was armed (as initially reported in the Standard).

This case is a crucial test of Jenkins' leadership. She has received good marks from many city residents since she revised some of her predecessor's policies regarding prosecuting drug dealers and cut back on diversion programs. And the DA's office seems to have a better working relationship with the San Francisco Police Department. But all that progress threatens to unravel with this case.

On Monday, Jenkins released an update about the ongoing investigation, but stopped short of stating the video would be released anytime soon. "I hear and understand the concerns from people calling for transparency, but releasing any evidence before the investigation is complete could compromise the investigation and is unethical," she stated. She added that if her office does end up charging Anthony, "all evidence will be presented in the courts." If Anthony is not charged, Jenkins stated her office will "publicly release a comprehensive report that provides a full accounting of the evidence reviewed and how the decision was made..."

There is precedent for officials releasing video footage before a criminal case has been adjudicated. In Memphis, Tennessee earlier this year, the police chief within three weeks released lengthy and disturbing bodycam video of officers brutally beating Tyre Nichols, a 29-year-old Black man who died days after the January 7 incident. Police Chief Cerelyn "CJ" Davis' decision was widely praised by civil rights groups and others, as her action helped show people what transpired during this horrific incident. (Five ex-Memphis police officers have pleaded not guilty to second-degree murder and other charges in the case.)

We appreciate that Jenkins wants to be careful, but in this case, Jenkins is being too cautious and may have already undermined the case since she initially cited self-defense, as Mission Local reported. Jenkins should release the video and continue to investigate Brown's fatal encounter with the security guard. And Arroyo has a point when she told us another reason why the video should be viewed by the public: It's because of the fearmongering around Black and LGBTQ people, particularly those who are unhoused, that has marked much public discussion of Brown's death and the events that led up to it.

Mayor London Breed previously committed to ending trans homelessness in San Francisco by 2027. There are many unanswered questions about why Brown did not benefit from the myriad housing programs the city operates or supports with financial resources. That, too, deserves investigating. But at this moment, when emotions are high and the LGBTQ community is hurting, Jenkins releasing the video could help provide much-needed context that is missing in some of the discussion about this case.

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