Threats or payback?

Activist arrested after criticizing the SFPD and its tactics on television

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Debray Carpenter was arrested after criticizing the police in protests and on television
PHOTO BY JOSH WOLF

news@sfbg.com

Officers from the San Francisco Police Department arrested a 21-year-old activist from Hunters Point less than 24 hours after he appeared on a public access television show where he indicted the police for a recent shooting and named officers he says have personally harassed him.

Around 4 p.m. on Saturday, July 23, Debray Carpenter, who is also known as Fly Benzo, was arrested near the intersection of Oakdale Avenue and Lane Street and booked on charges of threatening a police officer and resisting arrest. After spending almost four days in jail, the District Attorney's Office declined to file any charges and Carpenter was released.

"If they feel like they can charge me, they would've," Carpenter said after his release. "SFPD lies and that's a fact. I just want the people to see how they lie. Just like they are lying about me, they could be lying about Kenneth Harding. Anything they say needs to be taken with a grain of salt."

On July 16, police shot and killed Kenneth Harding Jr. while he was running from police. When officers stopped Harding at the 3rd and Oakdale Muni platform and asked him to produce a transfer, he bolted. The official story is that while he was running away, Harding pulled out a gun and fired at least one shot at police before they returned fire. Police later said the shot that killed him pierced his neck on the right side and was fired from his own gun, but some witnesses say that Harding didn't have a gun, and many people in the community still have doubts about what happened.

Carpenter has spoken out against Harding's death on the TV news, and he has participated in and organized protests calling for greater police accountability in the weeks following the shooting. On July 22, Carpenter appeared as the only guest on the public access program "CLAER Da Corner," a 90-minute show hosted by Sharen Hewitt, the executive director of Community Leadership Academy & Emergency Response Project (CLAER), an anti-violence nonprofit.

During his appearance on the program, Carpenter named several SFPD officers who he claimed had harassed him in the past. He also recounted an exchange that took place a few days earlier on July 19. It was during this encounter that police say Carpenter made the criminal threat for which he was later arrested.

The police version of the incident differs significantly from the story that Carpenter shared with Hewitt on her show before his arrest.

According to Carpenter, he was with a group of people having a casual conversation with an SFPD officer as two other officers drove up and aggressively pursued a teenager for no apparent reason. When the group asked the officers about their behavior, one of the officers explained that she's from New York, said Carpenter.

This prompted Carpenter to bring up Sean Bell, a young man who was gunned down by the NYPD, and the officer replied, "I haven't shot anyone, yet," according to Carpenter.

"Ya'll bleed too. Just how we bleed, ya'll bleed," Carpenter shot back.

He told the host that the officer then responded by asking, "Is that a threat?"

"No, that's a fact," replied Carpenter. The police then drove away, he said.

But the police say that Carpenter threatened to kill one of the officers and was aggressive from the moment they arrived.

"Carpenter started yelling at them and he said, 'White pig bitch I'm gonna put one in you,'" SFPD spokesman Lt. Troy Dangerfield told us.

"You bleed like I do. I'm gonna put one in you and show you," Carpenter allegedly told police after being asked if his previous statement had been a threat, according to Dangerfield.

"There was a large crowd of people that began circling around the officers and they determined it was unsafe to make an arrest at the time," Dangerfield said. "One of our rules is if you know somebody you don't have to make an arrest right there and cause a big scene."

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