The San Francisco man who recorded a viral video of a couple calling the cops on him for stencilling “Black Lives Matter” outside his home spoke out Thursday in support of legislation to outlaw discriminatory calls to the police.
James Juanillo argued that the proposed CAREN Act would not only protect people of color from discrimination, but deter “future Karens and Kens from destroying themselves on social media by practicing caution.”
“The citizens of San Francisco, whether they are a person of color or are unknowingly exercising white privilege, are going to benefit if this passes,” Juanillo told a Board of Supervisors committee, which voted to support amendments to the legislation.
CAREN is short for Caution Against Racially Exploitative Non-Emergencies. Supervisor Shamann Walton announced the legislation in June in response to videos from around the nation showing white people dialing 911 on people of color.
“911 calls and emergency reports are not customer service lines for racist behavior and should not be recognized as such,” said Walton. “Weaponizing the police department has led to unfortunately assault and deaths of folks of color… this has to stop.”
The legislation would allow the victim of a discriminatory police call to file a lawsuit against the person who made the report and seek damages of $1,000 or more.
The national trend became a local news story in June when a couple, Lisa Alexander and Robert Larkins, confronted Juanillo on video as he stencilled “Black Lives Matter” in yellow chalk on the fence of his Pacific Heights home.
A white couple call the police on me, a person of color, for stencilling a #BLM chalk message on my own front retaining wall. “Karen” lies and says she knows that I don’t live in my own house, because she knows the person who lives here. #blacklivesmatter pic.twitter.com/rOpHvKVwgP
— Jaimetoons (@jaimetoons) June 12, 2020
The video showed Alexander and Larkins questioning whether Juanillo, a San Francisco native who is Filipino and a longtime renter at the building, was “defacing” private property or lived at the building.
“I have everything but a glass of wine out there that would tell anyone who is trying to read the room that I am not a thug or a random person committing graffiti or vandalism,” Juanillo told the supervisors.
“If this law were in effect that day,” he continued. “I believe they would have read the room better and saved themselves the deprecation that they are going through in The City with the loss of their incomes.”
Outrage over the video led to Larkins being fired from his job at a financial firm and calls for a boycott of Alexander’s skincare business.
Juanillo also addressed an audio recording of the call Larkins made to police, obtained exclusively by the San Francisco Examiner. In the call, Larkins said the property “obviously” did not belong to Juanillo.
“The only obvious thing… at that point when he said that statement is the color of my skin,” Juanillo said.
Larkins later issued a statement to the media apologizing for his “ignorance of racial inequity.”
“I was wrong to question Mr. Juanillo, and I was wrong to call the neighborhood police watch,” Larkins said. “It was wrong, and I am profoundly sorry for treating him with disrespect.”
Alexander responded to the controversy in a July letter to the Board of Supervisors, saying the media misrepresented the incident and that she should not be the “poster child” for the CAREN Act because Larkins called the non-emergency line, not 911.
“When I walked up to Mr. Juanillo that Tuesday, I had no idea what his race was nor what he was messaging,” Alexander wrote. “All I saw was a person I did not know writing on a neighbor’s wall, and I thought I was being a good neighbor.”
The CAREN Act is not limited to 911 calls and would apply to any discriminatory report to law enforcement.
While the legislation will need to return to committee for another vote, it has already garnered unanimous support from the Board of Supervisors and is expected to be approved without issue.
“This strikes me as a piece of legislation that is about more than just creating a new crime or creating a new legal response but really is seeking to do something deeper and more important which is to change how people relate to each other,” Supervisor Rafael Mandelman said.
“When I saw this video I was just absolutely outraged, heartbroken,” said Supervisor Catherine Stefani. “It should never have happened in the first place.”