by Gloria Berry, San Francisco Democratic County Central Committee
Born and raised in San Francisco, I know white supremacy is nothing new in this city or our country.
I’ve come to expect white supremacist tropes from conservative and right-wing pundits. But it is more traumatizing when it comes from places where you wouldn’t expect it, like our city’s most progressive clubs – including DSA (Democratic Socialists of America)-San Francisco, the Harvey Milk Club and the Berniecrats.
As an activist and candidate for office, I thought I’d found a home in these progressive spaces, where people echoed the sentiment of my beliefs and claimed to be allies. They acted like they were my friends. They hugged me and supported me. They claimed to be fighting with me on the same issues.
Dr. Cornel West, my favorite philosopher, speaks on the concept of “superficial diversity,” which describes perfectly my experience with these progressive clubs. They want our face, but not our personality, hair, clothes or our voices. They don’t want to take the time to understand our culture or concerns.
The second time I ran for office, members of these clubs, branding themselves as political professionals, tried to get me to straighten my hair and dress differently. They tried to turn me into a white candidate talking about issues white people care about. White supremacy – reflected by these clubs – sets the standard on what a politician should look and sound like.
Whitewashing our appearance is bad enough in terms of examples of racism, but I realized these clubs were even more toxic when I watched them rally around their comrades to produce false accusations against Shahid Buttar – a congressional candidate running against Nancy Pelosi who shares my same values – in an attempt to smear him.
I observed some of the most traumatizing and personal examples of racism in the form of false accusations made both towards me and others. False accusations are a classic tool of white supremacy, harming so many Black and Brown people across all levels of society going back to the roots of our country.
That’s why I authored a resolution in support of the CAREN Act to prohibit false reports to law enforcement. Watching false accusations is deeply traumatizing to me.
The attempt to recruit me to take part in their smear campaign against a Brown man running for Congress started with a call from Emily Jones, who I met through the SF Berniecrats and socialized frequently with over the past two years.
Her first dramatic words were that she had been crying all night. She said that Shahid Buttar had done something terrible and that we can’t support him anymore. She had been calling down a list of people to join in.
She went on to specify that Shahid had allegedly sexually assaulted a woman on the East Coast named Elizabeth Croydon 20 years ago and that a Medium post would be coming out soon. Being a survivor myself, this was devastating to hear.
Yet, something was strange. When I asked her for details about what happened, the story didn’t add up, and she kept making racist remarks that sounded fishy.
Emily said Shahid was guilty of sexual assault because he had a Blaaaaack friend. She talked about a blonde volunteer on the campaign and Shahid referring to himself as Brown.
If Shahid was guilty, he should not be supported. But the “evidence” used to attempt to convince me was based on a bunch of really weird racist tropes.
Emily had told me before applying to work with Shahid that she personally hated him. I said that I was not convinced that we should jump onboard with this until we heard more details.
After talking to three people – two of whom were convinced that Croydon’s untold allegation rumors were true simply because they had heard Shahid accurately refer to himself as Brown – I decided to call Shahid myself. He supported my campaign, and I supported his. I was not going to join in on smearing him without more information.
The way the resolution was presented looked like a common technique used by prosecutors, also known as tainting the jury or “stacking charges.”
Shahid was genuinely surprised and appropriately disturbed by the rumors. I felt bad for Shahid, because I could sense his surprise and sadness that no one had asked him directly about any of these rumors as they continued to spread.
Soon after the calls, a resolution appeared to withdraw DSA’s endorsement of Shahid, based on not much of anything except some rumors and an accuser’s account that still hadn’t been told.
The resolution concerned me. The way it was presented looked like a common technique used by prosecutors, also known as tainting the jury or “stacking charges.” By presenting a case in inflated and outrageous terms, accusers set a tone of presumptive guilt. This is an especially typical approach when the evidence is weak, or, like here, when there is none at all and the accusations appear to be fabricated.
It was centered around a tweet from Elizabeth Croydon. Her tweet read, “Dear @CornelWest, I’d like you to know that Shaid [sic] Buttar sexually harassed me and is friends w/ the ‘ex’ ‘gang banger’ who threw me into a wall disabling me for years. The left can do better. No further comment at this time.”
The audacity of a Karen reaching out to a pillar of the Black community with this foolishness was highly offensive to me. I felt like the tweet, with language like “gang banger,” was a racial dog whistle, aimed towards people with anti-Black and Brown biases to gain their sympathy and stoke their outrage. Since Dr. West had endorsed Shahid, it seemed to suggest a political motive behind the accusation.
But I was also surprised a new claim was added into the DSA resolution. Now they were accusing Shahid of toxic masculinity in the office.
I had known and worked with these people in Shahid’s office. I never heard them speak of any toxic masculinity. There were little to no examples other than an allegation of Shahid not taking the suggestion of his former campaign manager Jasper Wilde.
The worst of meetings was the DSA-Silicon Valley un-endorsement of Shahid, which felt like I had watched a KKK rally.
I had spent a lot of time in that office. I had seen Jasper present some pretty bad ideas, so I didn’t understand how that would be toxic masculinity.
I did witness toxicity in his campaign’s office, but the problems that I witnessed stemmed from the campaign manager Jasper Wilde. I watched Jasper treat a few people on the campaign with disrespect, but I also experienced it directly myself. She prevented me from adding my campaign literature to Shahid’s bags, despite the candidate having endorsed me, bringing me to tears at one point.
It felt to me like Jasper was trying to use my color and my voice by asking me to give speeches to the crowd at events, without showing the same solidarity that the candidate and his supporters did.
When Croydon’s story finally came out, I could not believe my eyes! There was no mention of Shahid committing sexual assault at all. In fact, what was published was an entirely different story from the previous one that both Emily shared with me and others to paint a picture of Shahid.
To this day, I can’t find one person who believes in the sexual assault allegation within those clubs, but that didn’t stop them from pushing it anyway.
DSA leaders now claim not to know who wrote or signed that original resolution, even though the original drafter, Jasper Wilde, admitted to having written it and the resolution was reported to have been signed by 40 DSA members. One member pushing the smears, Raya Steier, even had the audacity to unequivocally state in a DSA-SF meeting that “Brown men rape.”
When DSA-SF eventually held its chapter-wide discussion on whether to rescind its endorsement of Shahid, I wasn’t allowed to speak in the closed session because I’m not a chapter member. Nor were any number of character witnesses who were poised to inform the group that this resolution was entirely fabricated.
One by one, I watched the progressive clubs fall in line with their own twist on white supremacy.
The worst of meetings was the DSA-Silicon Valley un-endorsement of Shahid, which took place later in August. I felt like I watched a KKK rally. A now elected official, Redwood City Council member Lissette Espinoza-Garnica, despite having never even met Shahid, spoke presumptuously at length with no proof about Shahid’s supposed decades of undiscovered sexual predation.
The least racist was SF Berniecrats, but that’s not a compliment. When the smearers did not get enough votes from their membership to remove their endorsement of Shahid, it gave me hope that people could see through the shenanigans.
But, the same night, the club’s leadership changed their bylaws in order to give the club the ability to rescind endorsements without specifying a reason. The bylaw was changed to support a bad faith accusation. It wasn’t just against the interests of the club’s members. It was racist.
Each of these clubs ended up leaning into the lies, ignoring the white supremacy.
After this process was contrived by the Berniecrats, Raya Steier again offensively suggested on the group’s Facebook page that they seek a rape mediator, further poisoning the well with insinuations of severe misconduct lacking any evidence. He was never accused of rape or sexual assault by anyone. Pissed me off.
The SF Berniecrats was my favorite political club as the only one in the city to endorse me outside my own neighborhood my first time running for office. It hurt to see the then Chair Brandon Harami influence the process to contrive support for his lying friend Jasper Wilde. Even to this day, he continues to smear Shahid, and now, me, too.
Members of the Harvey Milk LGBTQ Democratic Club, which was recently accused of racism based on the organization’s comments about our city’s Black mayor, turned to outright threats against me for speaking in favor of Shahid.
One of the club’s board members and officers, Jackie Thornhill, a city legislative aide at the time, had the audacity to bully me during the meeting saying that, in defending Shahid, I’d “go down with the ship.” She repeated this again this year. What the hell?
The Milk Club followed the rest of the pattern, also voting not to endorse Buttar – but Pelosi instead. In the coming months, the club also appointed to its board Jasper Wilde and Raya Steier, both of whom organized the campaign to smear Shahid and promoted false accusations of sexual misconduct.
I spoke out in a club meeting to challenge their complicity in white supremacy. No one listened. I decided to take my concerns to a wider audience. I posted a petition to change.org in February 2021 calling out the racism in the Milk Club in particular, where the architects of the lies about Shahid had been promoted to positions of organizational leadership. It received 501 signatures.
My petition was hacked – not once, but twice – before being taken down entirely by persons unknown. Each time it was hacked, it was changed to remove the name of Jackie Thornhill, the city employee who threatened me. Jackie also disingenuously accused me of transphobia in early 2021. I felt this was in retaliation for me defending Shahid and the truth.
Each of these clubs ended up leaning into the lies, ignoring the white supremacy despite my efforts to call attention to it. It was incredibly frustrating, not only because I watched an innocent immigrant get publicly characterized as a predator based on nothing more than his interest in helping protect the future from the corruption of an establishment protected by his critics, but also because my own voice was widely ignored –even by non-whites who claim to stand for racial justice!
Now, to this day, all I hear people say is Shahid needs to move on. Sometimes they even add, “for the sake of the movement.”
Black people are often told to move on from the fact that we were enslaved decades ago, but these type of right-wing statement makers don’t comprehend that the damage can have lingering effects. The smears harmed Shahid’s historic campaign in 2020, his ability to promote values and policies that I care about, too, and his ability to be hired for any other job in the future. His personal relationships have been harmed.
What kind of movement is this? Would these same people say this to someone else who is a victim? I don’t identify myself as a survivor when it comes to being a victim of white supremacy, because ongoing harm is still being done until this day.
Shahid deserves an apology. So does the public, who was misled when these organizations put out false information. They need to correct the record, apologize and hold their leaders accountable. We need to recognize that spreading false accusations against a Black or Brown man is racism. Point. Blank. Period.
Regardless of how much you say you are concerned about “people of color” or how many letters you sign or how many marches you join – actions speak louder than words. Failure to correct the record is ongoing complicity.
I appreciate that the San Francisco Bay View has given me my voice. I had to resort to typing up my own account because none of the local papers, including San Francisco Chronicle, Mission Local, Bay Area Reporter and 48 Hills, expressed any interest in speaking with me.
This is why we need local papers who support Blaaaack voices. You can view the full and in-depth account of what happened with all the screenshots and receipts at https://gloriaberry.substack.com/p/white-supremacy-in-san-francisco.
Gloria Berry is a native San Franciscan, U.S. Navy veteran, grandmother, former law enforcement sergeant and elected member to the San Francisco Democratic County Central Committee. Her affiliation with the DCCC is listed for identification purposes only.