Free Fly Benzo! Criminalizing critique, cameras and community in Bayview Hunters Point

Pack the courtroom for Fly Benzo’s next hearing on Thursday, Oct. 27, 9 a.m., 850 Bryant in Department 12

Message from Fly’s lawyer received Oct. 25; she is Severa Keith, who can be reached at severakeith@gmail.com or (415) 626-6000:

“DeBray’s next court date is Thursday, Oct. 27, 2011, at 9:00 a.m. in Dept. 12 of 850 Bryant. A large community presence will make a difference. 

“I am looking for people who have been with DeBray when police have been taunting or harassing him. Please send me an email so that we can talk prior to Thursday morning. I would like to prepare people to be witnesses, if it becomes necessary.

“With your assistance, the motion I filed contained 10 strong and inspiring letters. Continue to spread the word to the community. If you or anyone is able to write a letter in support of Debray, please get it to me at the email below by Wednesday at 4 p.m. The letter should include an introduction of yourself (your connection to the community, employment, community activities etc.), how and how long you’ve known DeBray, and statements illustrating the positive impact that DeBray has had on the community. Keep the letters positive, and don’t guess about what happened that day. It’s better to focus on what you actually know about him.

“Also, continue to ask witnesses of the Oct. 18 assault and arrest of DeBray to contact me, whether or not they have videos.

“Thanks to everyone reaching out to the community, I obtained a video today of the incident, which I have reviewed and am comparing with the many inconsistencies in the police report.”

BAIL: The hearing on Thursday is on a motion to reduce bail from the current $95,000! But some bail will probably be needed. If you can contribute, click HERE.

by Mesha Monge Irizarry, Idriss Stelley Foundation

Comrades DeBray Carpenter aka Fly Benzo and his brother, Tommy Clayton aka Pladee, are being choked yet again by the San Francisco INjustice system. Fly, a City College student, hip hop artist, a founder of the Black Star Liner Coalition, peacemaker, youth educator, copwatcher and Black Power advocate in San Francisco’s Bayview Hunters Point neighborhood, was thrust into the international limelight three months ago with his outspoken critique of the police version of the death of Kenneth Wade Harding Jr. This killing occurred on July 16, 2011, at the intersection of Third Street and Oakdale Avenue.

Fly’s arrest on Tuesday, Oct. 18, was not his first “piggy ride” with Bayview police. As a longstanding videographer of police brutality and harassment in his community, he was arrested with same day release on July 2, 2011, for exposing police brutality. In this matter no charges were formally filed.

But on July 23 when Fly was arrested again, this time a week after the horrific killing of Kenneth Harding Jr. (see video below), he was held on felony charges with no arraignment for more than 72 hours in violation of his due process rights. This arrest occurred subsequent to his appearance July 22 as the only guest on Sharen Hewitt’s “CLAER Da Corner” public access TV program, where he eloquently expounded upon the deceitful underbelly of the SFPD.

In particular he highlighted their lies whitewashing Kenneth Harding’s death – prompted by a $2 fare evasion – and promoted a boycott of the Muni T-train light rail line. On the show he also named particular officers who had harassed him in the past. After a phone blast to the D.A.’s office as well as a strong show of community force at the Hall of INjustice, all charges were once again dropped.

Two and a half months later, SFPD terror and intimidation has not abated. Approximately two weeks ago, Tommy Clayton, Fly’s brother, was arrested on trumped up marijuana charges in total non-compliance with the Lowest Priority Ordinance on Marijuana Offenses, which has been law in San Francisco since June 2007. Tommy, released on his own recognizance (OR’d), will appear in court to face these charges Friday, Oct. 21, at 9 a.m. This hearing will be held at the Criminal Court, 850 Bryant St., San Francisco, in Department 9.

The latest assault perpetrated by two police officers from the Bayview precinct against Fly and Tommy aka Pladee occurred Tuesday, Oct. 18, around 1 p.m. a block from where Kenneth Harding was killed. The incident began with the plugging of their boombox into an electrical outlet near Metro PCS in Mendell Plaza on Third and Palou. The officers told Fly his radio was too loud and yanked the cord out of the socket.

The police then began to film Fly, leading him to film them as well. According to accounts, the police asked him to get out of their faces with his camera and proceeded to knock it out of his hands twice. Fly picked it up from the ground each time.

After the second time he attempted to retrieve the camera, an officer assaulted him, pulling him by his dreadlocks and slamming him against the pavement. There were also reports of officers’ knees being violently jammed into Fly’s back and sides during the takedown.

During that interaction, the officer lost balance and hit his head against a cinder block. At some point during the interaction Tommy cried out, “Hey, that’s my brother! What you doing to my brother?” Both were re-assaulted by the officers and then handcuffed. Both were taken to San Francisco General Hospital for treatment before being booked into county jail.

The officers in question have been identified as Officer Norment and Officer Fry of the Bayview precinct. Both Fly and Tommy’s cellphones were confiscated by the arresting officers as evidence. Although a community member filmed the interaction, this person has been advised to turn the video in to the police department, so we may never see it unless it is subpoenaed by an attorney.

Also it is noteworthy that just like the video of the Samoan youngster seen on tape picking up Kenneth Harding’s cellphone from the pavement – taken off YouTube, then re-introduced a few days later showing the youth picking up a much larger object shaped like a gun – the original video of the Fly/Pladee/Bayview PD incident may be edited frame by frame to present an officially endorsed version of the “facts” by SFPD with the seal of approval of the mayor’s office.

On Thursday, Oct. 20, starting at noon, a crowd of approximately 30 community activists and family members, including the defendants’ parents, as well as Denika Chapman, mother of Kenneth Harding Jr., came to the steps of the Hall of INjustice chanting “Free Fly Benzo” and passing out fliers before going inside to Department 12 for his scheduled arraignment.

At the hearing, Fly was not arraigned – Tommy had already been released with charges pending – due to questions from Judge Y.S. Cheng concerning the legitimacy of the charges brought by the D.A. against Fly Benzo – aggravated assault on a peace officer, resisting arrest, interfering with police business and inciting riot – as well as the need to compare police reports with Fly Benzo’s school records in order to make a character determination that could influence the actions of the court.

Currently Fly is represented by Deputy Public Defender Sujung Kim, who has encouraged the community to come in numbers to support Fly Benzo at his next hearing on Monday, Oct. 24, 9 a.m., in Department 12. This hearing will determine whether or not Fly will remain in custody pending trial. His bail has been set at $73,000.

Anyone who was a witness, has information or is simply outraged by this deplorable incident resulting in the charges against Fly and Tommy should file a complaint with the Office of Citizens Complaints either in person at 25 Van Ness Ave. at Market Street, by phone at (415) 241-7733 or through their website, www.sfgov3.org/index.aspx?page=419, as per the suggestion of Fly’s counsel. Any pertinent evidentiary information should be forwarded to Sujung Kim at (415) 575-8867 or sujung.kim@sfgov.org.

Tommy, despite being free, is also facing similar charges minus the fantastical “inciting riot” allegation. The date of Tommy’s first hearing on these charges was not available at press time, nor was there any information concerning whether or not a motion would be filed to try the brothers together.

Mesha Monge Irizarry, mother of Idriss Stelley, who was murdered by San Francisco police June 13, 2001, heads the Idriss Stelley Foundation, the foremost Bay Area agency dedicated to police accountability. Contact her through the foundation’s bilingual crisis line at (415) 595-8251 or through Facebook.

For a half hour on July 16, 2011, as a crowd watched in horror, Kenneth Harding, 19, who had run from the police when he couldn’t show them a transfer to prove he’d paid his $2 fare on the T-train and had fallen to the sidewalk at Third Street and Oakdale after police shot him repeatedly, lay in a quickly growing pool of blood writhing in pain and trying to lift himself up as the cops trained their guns on him and threatened bystanders.

This video was recorded Monday, Oct. 17, at the press conference held at Third and Oakdale, where police murder victim Kenneth Harding had bled to death three months earlier, announcing that the 16th National Day of Protest to Stop Police Brutality, Repression and the Criminalization of a Generation would be held this year in the Bay Area on Saturday, Oct. 22, noon, at Third and Palou. Fly, who says at the end of the video, “Whoever stands with the police does not stand with the community, period!” was arrested again the next day.