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Banko Brown’s Black Trans Life Mattered

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Candles on the sidewalk feature a portrait of Banko Brown, a 24-year-old Black trans man.
A memorial for Banko Brown outside of Walgreens on Market Street in San Francisco, where he was shot and killed by a security guard on April 27. (Beth LaBerge/KQED)

San Francisco has long positioned itself as a progressive foil for the rest of the country, especially in the realm of LGBTQ+ rights. And while red states scramble to pass increasingly hateful anti-trans laws, California has become a sanctuary state for trans youth healthcare.

LGBTQ+ culture and history is rich and deep here. We have San Francisco’s Transgender Cultural District, the first of its kind in the world, tons of trans-inclusive nightlife spaces and a number of beloved, influential queer and trans folks in politics and the arts.

But undercutting all of that is a sheer disregard — and sometimes utter disdain — for this city’s poorest residents, a disproportionate number of whom are LGBTQ+. If San Francisco wants to live up to its progressive ideals, Banko Brown’s life must be treated like it actually mattered.

Banko Brown. (GoFundMe/Illustration by Gabe Meline)

Brown was a 24-year-old trans man shot and killed by a downtown Walgreens security guard, Michael Earle-Wayne Anthony, on April 27 on Market Street. San Francisco police have told reporters that Brown was suspected of shoplifting, and that he was unarmed.

Anthony was arrested, jailed and released three days later, when District Attorney Brooke Jenkins declined to file charges, claiming that the security guard acted in self-defense. But given the fact that Brown had no weapons on him, and that a witness told Mission Local that Anthony followed Brown outside and shot him in the chest, Jenkins’ decision has come under public scrutiny. On Monday, after pressure grew stronger, the DA asked the San Francisco Police Department to reopen the investigation.

Brown’s family and supporters are urging Jenkins to release the video of the shooting. (On May 9, San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors unanimously passed a resolution asking Jenkins to release evidence.)

Brown’s death is a gross illustration of the cruelty permeating San Francisco, a supposedly inclusive beacon. Brown was said to be homeless or housing insecure for the past 10 years, since he was 14 years old. This is a sadly common predicament for LGBTQ+ youth, especially trans youth, whose homelessness rates hover at close to 40%, often because of family rejection, according to a 2021 national survey from the Trevor Project. According to Mayor London Breed’s office, trans and gender-nonconforming people are 18 times more likely to experience homelessness than the rest of the population.

People walk past a memorial for Banko Brown outside of a Walgreens in San Francisco on May 9, 2023, where he was shot to death by a store security guard on April 27. (Beth LaBerge/KQED)

Sleeping on the street, as Brown — himself an advocate for trans rights at the Young Women’s Freedom Center — was said to have done recently, puts individuals in grave danger of violence. And being in moment-to-moment survival mode makes it incredibly challenging to access the labyrinthian bureaucracy of social services, let alone earn enough income to rent a room in San Francisco or the greater Bay Area.

Despite enormous structural problems — primarily the astronomical gap between the average rent and minimum wage — that make it difficult for poor San Franciscans to hold on to their housing, there’s a pervasively condescending attitude towards homelessness among the public. Many otherwise thoughtful people view this visible suffering as an inconvenience to the housed, rather than a human rights violation we step over and shun everyday.

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As wealth inequality and homelessness rates continue to grow, it’s inevitable that more people will steal for survival. And as the privileged among us continue to fixate on property crime and ignore root causes, more corporations like Walgreens will employ armed security guards to protect their property. (On the topic of of stealing, Walgreens recently paid $4.5 million in a wage settlement with 2,650 California employees.)

Coupled with the news that, in New York during the same week, a homeless cis Black man, Jordan Neely, was killed by a vigilante for making a disturbance on a train, it’s easy to imagine a future with more Banko Browns.

A poster with a photo of Banko Brown says, ‘Gone But Never Forgotten’ on a fence outside of a Walgreens in San Francisco on May 9, 2023, where he was shot to death by a store security guard on April 27. (Beth LaBerge/KQED)

Although activist movements have made gains towards police accountability over the past decade, the role of private security in violent oppression has largely gone unaddressed. Brown’s death calls to mind the ongoing fight for justice for beloved Oakland hip-hop artist Zumbi, who died after Alta Bates hospital staff and Allied Universal security guards piled on top of him while he was in treatment for a mental health crisis. His family’s lawyer compared his manner of death to that of George Floyd, and while the coroner ruled his death a homicide, former Alameda County District Attorney Nancy O’Malley initially declined to file charges. Like Jenkins, she reopened the investigation, which is still ongoing, after a massive public outcry.

These cases illustrate the difficulty of holding private security guards accountable for violence. Unlike police, their conduct is not public record, making it possible for the powerful, multinational corporations that employ them to make allegations disappear.

Many San Franciscans say they care about LGBTQ+ rights and racial justice, and Brown’s death shows that these issues run so much deeper than representation in entertainment and electoral politics. It means creating a city where all of us can live in dignity. Mayor Breed vowed to end trans homelessness by 2027. Right now, we’re far from it.

As one of Banko Brown’s supporters said during public comment at the May 2 San Francisco Board of Supervisors meeting, “The shit that’s being put on is a front. San Francisco is a front.”

Banko Brown’s family is seeking support on GoFundMe. Follow the Young Women’s Freedom Center for calls to action. 

This story was updated to include the result of the Board of Supervisors’ May 9 vote. 

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