Content Warning: Contains discussion of violence against trans people.
San Francisco is perhaps best known for 3 things: being the most expensive city in the United States, hosting a huge element of the tech industry, and being a long-established place of safety for the LGBTQ+ community. However, the last point on that list might not be as well-cemented as we once thought. It appears that San Francisco is joining the list of places where a trans person can be murdered without the perpetrator facing any real justice.
It’s no secret that recent years have seen a rise in violent attacks on trans people. While this might be in part attributed to increased visibility for the community and better reporting of the data, even these numbers probably underrepresent the actual number of attacks as many trans people are less likely to report events to the police. In 2021, the United States broke the record for transgender and gender-non-conforming deaths from violent attacks with 59 reported fatalities. To put that in perspective, an Everytown research study found that the number of trans people killed by homicide had more than doubled from the 29 reported deaths in 2017. Data for more recent years is still being properly compiled, but HRC has already tracked 12 trans/gender non-conforming deaths from violence in 2023.
While there has been an increase in violence against trans people, including homicides, across the United States, there are certain states that have seen more incidents. Those states might not come as a surprise. From 2021 to the date of writing, the top 5 states for violent trans deaths have been Texas, Florida, Pennsylvania, Georgia, and Illinois (using data from HRC reports). While many of those states are places that you might have assumed safety was lower, it seems that sort of assumption now needs to come into question after the recent death of a trans man and the failure to find justice that followed.
Banko Brown was a community activist that had worked with the nonprofit Young Women’s Freedom Center in San Francisco since he was 12 years old. He was also a trans man and was the 11th trans or gender non-conforming individual reported by the HRC to have died by violence in 2023. Towards the end of April, Brown was accused of shoplifting at a San Francisco Walgreens. The security guard on duty, Michael Earl-Wayne Anthony shot Banko, who later died of his injuries. As an isolated incident, this would be abhorrent, but the context of the legal response around it makes it significantly worse.
We’ve been boycotting Chick-Fil-A for their anti-LGBTQ+ stance for a decade, and it isn’t time to stop now, DEI or no.
The San Francisco district attorney, Brooke Jenkins, declined to press charges, stating that the guard acted in self-defense. Unsurprisingly, this caused a certain amount of public outcry, and in response the district attorney’s office released security camera footage of the incident, supposedly to support their case. The security footage shows that when Brown attempted to leave the store, the security guard attacked Banko Brown, punching him in the head several times and pinning to the ground. After a struggle, the guard then physically picks Brown up. Grabbing his bag, Brown goes to leave the store, then appears to turn back for a moment before being shot by security guard Michael Anthony.
The security guard has claimed (while misgendering Brown) that Banko Brown had threatened to stab him. No knife was found on Brown’s person. While Brown might have threatened him, Anthony had already demonstrated that he could easily have bested Brown without resorting to a gun. While Brown might have been shoplifting, the penalty for that crime is not death.
A claim of self-defense for Michael Anthony seems laughable. Both the beating and the shooting should easily be seen as excessive use of force for the situation. When put together with Anthony’s choice to misgender Brown, it seems that there was more to this than an attempt to save Walgreens from losing a small amount of product.
San Francisco has been seen as a haven and a sanctuary for LGBTQ+ people for so long, that the killing of Banko Brown hits especially hard. Not just for the action of one man pulling a trigger, but for the institution that has decided that it was okay to kill this man. At a time when anti-trans sentiment and legislation are being pushed by politicians and lobbyists, it should not have been that hard to find justice for the killing of a trans man in the queer capital of the United States.
The community in San Francisco is fighting back, but this should be receiving a national response. This is one element of a much larger problem that is sweeping the United States. The 2024 presidential elections will be here before we know it and their result will likely decide whether LGBTQ+ people across the nation feel safe remaining in this country.
Ultimately, this serves as another sad reminder of why we need Trans Day of Remembrance. It will remain relevant, and we will need to add fresh names to our TDOR rolls every year until something changes.
You can see the Human Rights Campaign’s on-going list for 2023 here, and also find links to their information on previous years.