by Minister of Information JR
You are listening to the Minister of Information on Hard Knock Radio (broadcast on KPFA Nov. 17, 2011). Today we’re going to be talking to San Francisco activist DeBray Carpenter aka Fly Benzo, as he’s known on the streets and in the rap world, about what’s been going on with police terrorism in Hunters Point.
Fly has been very active and his family has been very active in the Hunters Point community. He has been one of the frontline soldiers in this fight for justice in the case of Kenneth Harding, an unarmed 22-year-old Black male who was murdered in Hunters Point by the San Francisco PD over a muni transfer. Fly, what’s happening with you?
Fly Benzo: What’s up?
M.O.I. JR: Can you tell the people a little bit about your history in activism? Can you tell people how did you get active and a little bit about your family and who they are in Hunters Point?
Fly Benzo: My father has been an activist for a long time; his name is Claude Carpenter. My mom (Barbara Banks), she was the first female contractor in San Francisco and she was African American. I really started with my activism when they built the T-Train Line on Third Street around 2003 and I was too young to even work but I was fighting for my people’s rights because it was none of my peoples working that T-Line.
I was too young to even work but I was fighting for my people’s rights because it was none of my peoples working that T-Line.
M.O.I. JR: Well, for people who don’t live in San Francisco, what is the T-Line and why was it important for people to work?
Fly Benzo: The T-Line is basically a train, it’s kind of like BART, it’s kind of like the subway in New York. We never had trains that went to Hunters Point. We had trains that bring goods but we never had passenger trains that come to Hunters Point and they’re basically trying to integrate the City. They’re trying to gentrify Hunters Point and make it easier for people to get to Hunters Point on the train.
M.O.I. JR: But the other thing that was important about it was like a hundreds of millions dollar project that the community didn’t get hired to build. People outside the community got brought in and made the money.
Fly Benzo: Yes, sir, and even when we did get some kind of cut, the only jobs we got was stop sign jobs, holding up stop signs – and that’s all you’re going to see. You go to any of these construction sites, you’re going to see a whole lot of people holding stop signs and then once the job is over they don’t need them for nothing, nowhere. They don’t need stop sign holders on every job.
M.O.I. JR: So basically what you’re saying is that they were not trained to do any of the high level jobs that would be transferrable at other places of employment or other construction sites. What are some of the other movements that you got involved with before you got involved with this Kenneth Harding case?
Fly Benzo: Another movement would be the Deshon Marman case, where he was arrested for sagging on a US Airways plane. They have no dress code and they let another man fly in nothing but a bikini, nothing but panties and a bra, when they arrest this Black man for sagging and he’s a college student. He only came to San Francisco because his friend was murdered. He was going to the funeral and on his way back he got arrested and taken to jail and he had to get bailed out. Just like me, he has all these false charges. They dropped his charges but he had to bail out of jail.
M.O.I. JR: This was at San Francisco Airport?
Fly Benzo: At San Francisco Airport, and San Francisco police patrol the San Francisco Airport, but they took him to San Mateo County Jail and then they sent the transcripts or whatever to Redwood City, so it was a whole bunch of controversy with that case.
M.O.I. JR: Yeah, that was in 2011, right?
Fly Benzo: That’s right.
M.O.I. JR: What ended up happening with that case because I did hear about that?
Fly Benzo: Yeah, the case was dropped and I’m not exactly sure what’s going on with the legal aspects of the case. I heard they were offering some free flights.
Then after that I spoke, well, during that, I spoke at the Board of Supervisors meeting, and I spoke about how we get criminalized in the Bayview on the T-Train and the police chase people down because they don’t have a transfer on the T-Train while the murderers and the rapists and the robbers get away. I mean we got over 1,000 unsolved homicides in San Francisco. I mean Sharmin Bock (candidate for district attorney) said in her campaign we have 1,000 unsolved homicides – and they chase people down for transfers in Bayview Hunters Point.
I spoke at the Board of Supervisors meeting (before the police murder of Kenneth Harding) about how we get criminalized in the Bayview on the T-Train and the police chase people down because they don’t have a transfer.
M.O.I. JR: Well, for those of you who are just tuning in, we are talking to activist Fly Benzo right here on Hard Knock Radio with the Minister of Information JR. Fly, can you tell the people a little bit about the Kenneth Harding case? Kenneth Harding was somebody who was recently murdered by the police in San Francisco, but can you tell them a little bit about the case specifically for the people who have never heard that name?
Fly Benzo: Like I was saying about the Deshon Marman thing, when I spoke before the Board of Supervisors meeting, a couple of days later Kenneth Harding was shot down, and a lot of people in the community know me as an activist so they hit my phone immediately. They was telling me, like, the police killed somebody and then somebody else came up to me and showed me a video and I ran down there as fast as I could from the Monte Carlo. That’s about 8-10 blocks.
M.O.I. JR: And what happened?
Fly Benzo: He was out there bleeding. They had a bunch of cops out there. It was like a big standoff with the police. They had a large area taped off and it was whole bunch of police out there looking everywhere but by where dude was shot for a gun. They’re going up on rooftops and they were looking everywhere for a gun that obviously wasn’t there.
Kenneth Harding was bleeding on the ground. I think they had taken him off by that time, but then we walked around because they had the area taped off. So we walked all the way around the block the other way so we could get to the news reporters and tell them the community’s side of the story, because this Kenneth Harding incident isn’t an isolated incident.
It’s been women that have been beat up by the police for not having a transfer on the T-Train, and I put it on my show. I broadcast it on Channel 29 public access in San Francisco, and my show is called “It’s Really Real TV” and it comes on late night. A lady got beat up for not having a transfer on the T-Train.
I basically ran from the police and I didn’t have a transfer, but I’m thinking they’re not going to chase me for a transfer but they actually called backup to take me down for a transfer. This is basically criminalizing poverty.
The African American youth in San Francisco have a 70 percent unemployment rate, so our population is rapidly decreasing. It’s going to continue to decrease when the police are criminalizing our poverty in San Francisco. They are already tearing down our low-income housing.
African American youth in San Francisco have a 70 percent unemployment rate, so our population is rapidly decreasing. It’s going to continue to decrease when the police are criminalizing our poverty.
M.O.I. JR: Didn’t you catch a number of cases for being on the front lines and representing the Hunters Point community against police terrorism? How does that tie in?
Fly Benzo: I caught a whole bunch of cases. I spoke on Sharen Hewitt’s show on Channel 29. The next day the police must have seen the show and they arrested me on sight – narc cars and a black and white – and they all hopped out and came straight to me with the handcuffs dangling and arrested me and told me, “You’re not getting cited out this time.” And I was in jail for about five days with resisting arrest charges.
M.O.I. JR: For it to be resisting arrest, what was the initial arrest for?
Fly Benzo: There was no reason to arrest me.
M.O.I. JR: So they arrested you for resisting arrest?
Fly Benzo: Yes, and I didn’t even resist. That’s the cold part.
M.O.I. JR: But I’m saying like how can they get on a charge of resisting arrest when they had no probable cause to arrest?
Fly Benzo: It’s crazy; it’s police misconduct.
M.O.I. JR: OK, what’s the second time?
Fly Benzo: This latest time, a cop pulled out his video phone and started videotaping me after he had unplugged the radio (in Mendell Plaza at Third and Palou, where playing music is commonplace), and the community didn’t like it. He started videotaping me and I’m doing no crime.
So I pulled out my phone and I started videotaping him and obviously he felt that a threat to his job or his position or him getting a promotion or whatever – and he wanted to try to knock my phone out my hand. So I told him not to touch me and I recorded him again and he did it again and he tried to grab my arm and tried to put me under arrest.
I wasn’t trying to get arrested because I just got out of jail for five days for nothing, but I know what happens. I mean I was just coming from school, just got to Third Street and Palou.
I saw my brother, I stopped, and I mean they started harassing me as soon as they came to Third Street – like Black people aren’t welcome in San Francisco. If we’re not welcome on Third Street, what makes you think we’re going to be welcome on Market Street? If we’re not welcome on Third Street, what makes you think we’re going to be welcome in Chinatown or Koreatown?
Why can’t African Americans have a cultural mecca in San Francisco? How come every other culture is San Francisco is celebrated in San Francisco? That’s the kind of thing we need to speak on.
M.O.I. JR: So to get to the point where they racked you and your brother up?
Fly Benzo: So they took us, they grabbed my arm and tried to put me under arrest. And by this time, backup was coming and a whole lot of cops were on me.
They tried to charge me with assault on an officer and resisting arrest causing serious bodily harm, but I mean, is videotaping a cop a crime?
Is videotaping a cop a crime?
M.O.I. JR: Where did the assault charge come from? What had happened?
Fly Benzo: I have no idea. I assaulted no one. I didn’t let them just arrest me because I had committed no crime, but I mean at first all they were trying to do was take my phone.
But they put me under arrest, they beat me up. I was hospitalized, and I was put in jail. They gave me $95,000 bail and I had to come up with $7,600 to get out and I’m out on bail right now and I owe the bail bondsman.
They put me under arrest, they beat me up. I was hospitalized, and I was put in jail. They gave me $95,000 bail.
We’re selling T-shirts and I have a Facebook account, Free Fly Benzo. Look it up and you can buy T-shirts. We got all kinds of different designs. Look up my video, “Fly Benzo, War on Terror.” And we have some raw and uncut footage on there and you can check it out.
We have an entrepreneurship program we’re checking out and working on, I Too Have a Dream. We have a club at City College, Black Star Line Coalition. I mean, man, we’re pushing.
I was getting straight As. I was going to court every time. I had a bail reduction hearing. I had letters from my teachers, and the judge refused to reduce my bail.
And this child molester coach from Penn State, his bail was $100,000 and he touched six kids. He’s accused of touching six kids and his bail was only $5,000 more than mine and all I did was videotape a crooked cop. And I’m facing four years in the state pen for videotaping a cop.
This child molester coach from Penn State, his bail was $100,000 – only $5,000 more than mine – and all I did was videotape a crooked cop. And I’m facing four years in the state pen.
M.O.I. JR: One last time, your email address or where people can find you online if they want to get directly in contact with you?
Fly Benzo: Yes, on Facebook, Fly Benzo, or on Twitter, @Fly Benzo.
The People’s Minister of Information JR is associate editor of the Bay View, author of “Block Reportin’” and filmmaker of “Operation Small Axe,” both available, along with many more interviews, at www.blockreportradio.com. He also hosts two weekly shows on KPFA 94.1 FM and kpfa.org: The Morning Mix every Wednesday, 8-9 a.m., and The Block Report every Friday night-Saturday morning, midnight-2 a.m. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.