The San Francisco district attorney’s office has released surveillance footage of the moment a Walgreens security guard shot and killed 24-year-old trans man Banko Brown, who had been accused of shoplifting.
District Attorney Brooke Jenkins has elected not to press charges against the guard, Michael Ear-Wayne Anthony, claiming that the video proves he reasonably acted in self-defense. But many community members are appalled by the decision and say the video clearly shows Brown backing away when Anthony fired a shot into his chest.
The footage shows Anthony stopping Brown as he attempts to exit the store. The two begin a physical altercation and Anthony tackles Brown to the ground, hitting him multiple times and sitting on him. Ultimately, he gets up and lets Brown go, and as Brown appears to be backing away, Anthony fires.
A witness said Brown was assuming a “fighting stance,” but many who have seen the video believe it is clear he was not an imminent threat. Another witness said Brown spit at Anthony and that the “spit, flinch, and shot all seemed to happen at the same time.”
According to Anthony, Brown had been repeatedly threatening to stab him, but he never revealed a knife.
In fact, a report from the District Attorney’s office revealed one witness stating that after he shot Brown, Anthony said, “Dammit,” and told Brown, “Sorry man, that shouldn’t have happened. I was stupid.”
Julia Arroyo, co-executive director of the Young Woman’s Freedom Center, where Brown was a community organizer, blasted Jenkins for her “‘tough on crime’ attitude and insistence on punishing the poor and protecting the interests of corporations at the expense of communities of color.”
“We are tired. We are angry. And we are devastated,” Arroyo continued. ”But we will not stop fighting for justice for Banko.”
Rebecca Young, a former public defender, told the San Francisco Examiner that Jenkins’s decision not to press charges “sets a dangerous precedent.”
“In a city like San Francisco, where so many have to make tough decisions to meet their basic needs, arming stores with the pass to use armed force will result in much more tragedy.”
John Hamasaki, former progressive candidate for District Attorney, told The Guardian that it is “beyond comprehension why charges wouldn’t be filed.”
“We see cases filed all the time when there’s a fight, and somebody pulls out a gun and shoots. You don’t get to execute somebody once the threat is over, and that appears to be what’s happening.”
Hamasaki added that the video shows Anthony escalating the situation rather than trying to diffuse it.
“This is not what security guards are supposed to do. And it puts everyone in danger when they use excessive force at the beginning of an encounter.”
Anthony told police that Brown had stolen “some beverages and a few snacks.” Those who knew him say he was likely struggling with hunger. According to a statement from the Freedom Center, Brown “had been struggling with housing instability for over a decade” and he “was criminalized and lost his life because of the City’s incapacity to do right by young people.”
Nevertheless, the report from the district attorney concluded that Anthony acted “in lawful self-defense” and had an “objectively reasonable” fear “of great bodily injury or death.”
“The evidence shows that Brown transformed a simple theft into a robbery when he used physical force to take property without paying,” the report states.
In interviews with police following the shooting, Anthony also repeatedly misgendered Brown.
“While I wish this tragedy would have never happened in the first place, it is my duty to follow the law and the evidence wherever it leads,” Jenkins said in a statement following the announcement of her decision not to press charges.
Brown’s loved ones and advocates have organized protests in his honor, and civil rights attorney John Burris told the San Francisco Chronicle that Brown’s family plans to sue both Anthony and Walgreens.