Young, homeless Black woman at the center of club’s controversy needs real help, not just celebrity
by Sumiko Saulson
Regulars at DNA Lounge and members of their staff are understandably upset by events that occurred since Oct. 29, 2022. On the night in question, Lauren Hopkins attended an event at DNA Lounge called Wicked Vibes. At 1:41 a.m., the police responded to an incident that left Hopkins with bruises, two members of security with black eyes and another knocked unconscious by a bystander who came to Hopkins’ defense. Days later, the South of Market nightclub was responding to allegations that a member of their security staff had placed Hopkins, a young Black woman, in a chokehold.
As a homeless woman who is bisexual, African American and has bipolar disorder, Hopkins is an extremely marginalized person. She reports having moved in with her mom after being sexually harassed by her landlord, only to be subsequently kicked out by her mother on Oct. 18.
Homeless women are particularly at risk for sexual assault, and African Americans are at an increased risk for homelessness. Like herself, Hopkins’ mother has bipolar disorder, but her mother’s condition is untreated. Hopkins says she did nothing to warrant being thrown out, and her mother has an extensive history of domestic violence. Hopkins’ story is an unfortunately common one.
According to www.allhomeca.org, in every state in America, Black people are more likely to experience homelessness than their white counterparts, and the Bay Area is no exception. Despite representing 5% of San Francisco’s population, 37% of homeless people in San Francisco are Black. According to the Williams Institute of Law at UCLA, sexual minority adults are twice as likely to be homeless as the general population.
Among sexual minority adults, African American respondents had significantly higher rates (6%) of recent housing instability. According to Mental Illness Policy Org, 45% of homeless people have a mental illness of any kind, and 25% have a serious mental illness at any given point in time.
The tragic tale of Devonte Hart, a 12-year-old Black boy who was photographed hugging a law enforcement officer at a 2014 protest in Portland, Ore., should serve as a cautionary tale to all of us. Less than four years later, the young man and five of his siblings would be dead due to a murder-suicide at the hands of their abusive foster parent. Being pushed into the limelight as the cause du jour did nothing to help the young boy survive the dangerous situation he was facing in his home life.
Similarly, none of the recent coverage of the incident involving Lauren Hopkins reported the fact that the young woman in question is currently homeless and in a daily struggle to cover her most basic needs. Hopkins turned 26 on Nov. 5. She also spent a solid portion of the day fending off Instagram DMs with questions about the incident at DNA Lounge and its aftermath by detractors, supporters, and at least one racist, who showed up to refer to an onslaught of internet criticism directed towards her as “a lynching, LOL!” She posts her responses on her Instagram @pplofthebay, where she has now turned off mentions.
Hopkins posted on her Instagram account at @laurendelrey, which was reposted later by @theblackbayarea, an account run by The Black Bay Area LLC™️, a news and media website which can be found at theblackbayarea.org. Hopkins claimed she had been grabbed by the shoulders and removed from the entry line to the nightclub for throwing a cigarette butt on the ground while in the process of rolling a marijuana cigarette, and that “things had escalated from there.”
On Nov. 2, DNA Lounge responded in their blog: “A patron is told, ‘Hey, you can’t smoke in line,’ and responds by screaming and swearing at our staff. Because of that behavior, they are then told, ‘Ok, now you’re not coming in, good night.’ Then, they decide to smack our staff in the face. And so on.” Two days later, DNA Lounge would release security footage documenting their claims.
“The reason it took us several days to release that footage is that it’s not our camera. A neighbor came forward with the video. We released everything we were given,” says DNA General Manager Jessica Lennon.
The Black Bay Area, not having yet seen the security footage, responded by posting a screencap of the blog with the words: “Gaslighting victims with racism is never ok.” One commenter mentioned witnessing drunk white female customers lash out and nothing being done. The African American community has many valid reasons not to trust security guards any more than police, and several commenters suggested that the woman press charges or look into the backgrounds of security to see if any of them have a background in law enforcement.
However, several Black regulars at the DNA Lounge see things differently and when asked for comment were very vocal in their support.
“I respect and acknowledge the integrity of a minority-based newspaper focusing on the issues of the community and providing a voice to the voiceless, but what I do not respect is a minority newspaper that would rather push a narrative that comforts their beliefs and aligns with their view so that they can continue to float in their social-political echo chamber without being challenged or challenging their stances on certain situations. I want a community newspaper that’s able to call out the bad-faith participants in it, rather than protect them for the sake of image,” says Harley Evans, a Black woman who participates in community spaces.
“As someone that was conscious pre-internet and pre-social media, it’s disappointing to see how easily people are led. It’s sad to see how we are suffering a lack of critical thinking and need to see or have evidence. People are willing to accept the opinions of others before they learn for themselves. This was the problem with what happened at the DNA Lounge,” says Rev. Kathryn Seabron
On the night of Nov. 2, KRON aired a television news report featuring conflicting accounts by DNA Lounge and Hopkins, a cell phone video taken by a bystander showing the young Black woman in a restraint hold and a quote by prominent civil rights attorney John Burris describing the security guard’s arm as being in a “chokehold type position.”
On Nov. 3, DNA Lounge posted a blog accusing KRON of factually incorrect reporting. The following day, they posted security footage and encouraged their customers to ask KRON to air an updated segment including the new footage. The venue canceled its Nov. 4 Aesthetic Perfection show due to ongoing threats of violence against staff according to their website.
Lennon says: “One of our staff members was attacked and beaten following the KRON report. Staff have reported being followed home, and one of our staff members was rushed while he was trying to enter his apartment by someone yelling that he works at DNA Lounge. I have a staff of fifty people. About twelve of those work on security. All of them are afraid of being attacked on the street. The security member at the center of the video has received death threats and I believe there is very real danger to him right now. He is afraid to leave his home.”
On Friday, Nov. 4, DNA Lounge posted security footage of an angry Hopkins repeatedly attempting to reenter the club while security and bystanders attempt to block her entry or drag her away. The CCTV appears to show Hopkins being walked away from the club, restrained safely with her arms held behind her back, by at least two staff members. Bystanders attempt to insert themselves into the situation at several points. Hopkins breaks free of the hold and scuffles with security. This pattern repeats a couple of times.
KRON agreed to air a follow-up episode including the security footage and a face-to-face interview with Jessica Lennon, General Manager at DNA, and that aired on Nov. 7. The footage does not show Hopkins being removed from the line, nor does it depict the portion of the incident where Hopkins was in the contested hold.
When we asked Lennon for further comment, she said: “Multiple staff members were injured over the course of attempting to de-escalate this woman. One was bleeding, several had dark bruises from being hit in the face and two had a black eye. The security guard you can see her kicking in the leg on video is still limping and has scheduled an MRI.
“The takeaway of the surveillance footage we released was not ‘she was a bad person, she deserved whatever happened next.’ The point was ‘this woman lied egregiously about what led up to her restraint.’”
Hypervigilance is a state of increased alertness where one constantly assesses potential threats, and is associated with surviving domestic violence. Trauma caused by recent interactions with her mother and becoming homeless could have made Hopkins hypervigilant. In such a state, she may have overreacted to the shoulder hold she describes and the safe holds seen in the security footage. Recent trauma also increases the symptoms of people with bipolar disorder.
“I’m not a saint,” says Hopkins. “No one is arguing that I am the most perfect person who never litters and never yells, never curses back at people. I am stating the fact that I did not deserve to be put in a chokehold with bound legs over it. That’s the end.”
Recent trauma also increases the symptoms of people with bipolar disorder.
On Instagram, Hopkins claims she was defending herself in the surveillance video. Although she can be seen defending herself against a bystander 29 seconds into the video – security can be seen waving the same bystander off at about 53 seconds into the video – the footage does not show her defending herself against security.
Security claims Hopkins was intoxicated. Hopkins admits to drinking two alcoholic beverages but claims she was sober. On Instagram, she said a club promoter got her in for free on the night in question and that she got two free drinks.
DNA Lounge claims what was shown on the cellphone video is not a chokehold, while Hopkins insists that it is.
“A chokehold requires pressure on the neck to restrict breathing. Generally with one hand controlling the head from the back. An upper body restraint is an arm across the shoulders and pressure on the opposite shoulder generally used on smaller subjects. It also allows for pain compliance if necessary. From what I saw, and from the photos and videos available, there was no pressure on her neck,” said Sam Craig Jr., former Security and Investigative Specialist.
The KRON report quoted Civil Rights Attorney John Burris, who is known for his work in police brutality cases, including his successful lawsuit against the LAPD on behalf of Rodney King. When we contacted John Burris for comment about the DNA Lounge blog’s assertion that it was not a chokehold, he stated: “They were roughing her up, unnecessarily so. It appeared to be a chokehold to me. He had his arm around her neck. That is not supposed to occur, period.”
“A chokehold would have my arm wrapped tightly under her head, not down across her chest,” said DNA Lounge’s head of security. “There is a large distance between my right forearm, elbow and bicep where I wasn’t holding too tightly or applying pressure. As she struggled I moved with her and had to constantly readjust as to not hurt her. When she expressed discomfort I released and proceeded to hold her arms behind her back instead.”
Lauren Hopkins’ photos on Instagram show bruising on her arm, some scratches on her neck near her shoulder and a bruise which she says is from the hold and could be consistent with either version of events. Bruising may be less apparent on dark skin due to contrast, according to Medical News Today.
DNA Lounge believes staff actions were necessary and has produced evidence that there was an escalating conflict leading up to the restraint hold. In addition to the two KRON pieces and The Black Bay Area coverage, the story has been picked up by Meaww.com as well as the SF Standard, and Broke-Ass Stuart posted a link to the first KRON piece accompanied by a verbatim post of the DNA Lounge blog containing the CCTV footage.
“I’m doing a challenge called November – it’s where I try to make it through every day of November.”
Academic arguments about what is and is not a chokehold do not change the visceral impact that initially seeing the still or the cellphone footage has had on many Black community members, nor does it alter the fact that multiple members of the DNA Lounge staff are now frightened and confused over the allegations against them. One of them has been assaulted since the KRON report.
Additionally, canceled shows and threatened boycotts could potentially put the income of the staff at risk. The club has weathered its way through the 2020-21 pandemic closures and 2015-16 financial woes caused partially by a failed attempt by its ownership to expand to a new South of Market location called Code Word with the help of crowdsource funding through Patreon. Many of the club’s employees are marginalized people and several have been formerly homeless themselves.
In the meantime, Lauren Hopkins remains at risk and on the streets.
Lauren Hopkins reposted a meme that said: “I’m doing a challenge called November – it’s where I try to make it through every day of November.” On Nov. 10, Hopkins posted to Instagram: “Most of you don’t know, but I am a survivor of domestic violence. I was illegally evicted about three weeks ago. I’ve been staying with friends and in Air B-n-Bs ever since until I get onboarded at my new job this week and can apply for transitional housing. App takes seven days to be approved.
“The traumatic event at DNA Lounge was simply one of the many horrors I have faced this month. That’s why I ask for donations. That is why I am homeless and that is why I am writing this now. I hope this clears up any confusion.”
She’s been raising money by means of CashApp and Venmo to keep a roof even temporarily over her head. Interested parties can help Lauren Hopkins via CashApp at $suislailani and her Venmo is @LaurenHopkins$.
DNA Lounge is an independently owned entertainment venue that has weathered and survived the multiple days of closure during the COVID Pandemic that permanently shut down many beloved South of Market venues, such as Slims and The Stud. DNA Lounge accepts monetary support through DNALounge.com.
Bestselling author Sumiko Saulson (they/them or ze/hir) writes award-winning multicultural sci-fi, fantasy, horror and Afrosurrealism. Their latest novel, “Happiness and Other Diseases,” is available on Mocha Memoirs Press. Winner of the 2021 Horror Writers Association Richard Laymon Presidents Award, 2017 Afrosurrealist Writer’s Award, 2016 HWA Scholarship from Hell, and 2016 BCC Voice Reframing the Other Award, their monthly series Writing While Black follows the struggles of Black writers in the literary arts and other segments of arts and entertainment. Support them on Patreon and follow them on Twitter and Facebook.