By Alex Schmaus
Debray “Fly Benzo” Carpenter, a City College student and resident of Bayview-Hunter’s Point, was convicted Feb. 22 of three misdemeanors — resisting arrest, obstructing a police officer and assault on a police officer.
Benzo was acquitted on the charge of felony resisting arrest and the jury was deadlocked on the charge of felony obstructing police with use of threats or violence.
“While the outcome could have been much worse, we wanted better,” said Benzo’s lawyer, Severa Keith.
“There were no black people on the jury,” said Benzo. “I was judged by my race and the way I wear my hair. Slavery and racism are alive and well.”
The charges against Benzo stem from his Oct. 18 arrest during a confrontation in Mendell Plaza between a group of Bayview-Hunters Point residents and two SFPD officers, Joshua Fry and John Norment. The incident began when Officer Fry pulled the plug on a community boom box.
Benzo is known for speaking out against police violence and the killing of Kenneth Harding, age 19. Harding was shot at ten times by SFPD officers as he fled through Mendell Plaza when the officers attempted to detain him for not paying a $2 bus fare.
Just one day before his arrest, Benzo had performed a rap poem at a demonstration against police violence. Police pulled the plug on the sound at that event as well.
“The judge refused to allow any evidence related to [Benzo’s] prior interactions with these officers, which included incidents of racist acts, threatening acts, taunting and evidence that their superiors had told them to video record [Benzo],” Keith said.
“The exclusion of this important and relevant history between [Benzo] and the officers who arrested him was shocking to me, and made an already uphill battle a mountain.”
Dozens of supporters gathered to sit in court with Benzo during his trial.
A sentencing hearing is scheduled for April 20. Possible sentences range from probation to one year in county jail for each misdemeanor.
Keith is planning to appeal the verdict.