Debray “Fly Benzo” Carpenter, convicted of three misdemeanors — resisting arrest, obstructing a police officer and assaulting a police officer — was sentenced to three years of probation by Judge Jerome Benson on April 27.
He was originally sentenced to six months in county jail for each of the misdemeanors, but these sentences were suspended.
Benzo, a City College student, activist and emcee, was arrested in Mendell Plaza last October during a confrontation between a group of Bayview-Hunters Point residents and police officers Joshua Fry and John Norment.
“The only thing I did was film a cop and I told him how I felt about how he was policing in my community,” Benzo said. “I was beat up, hospitalized and arrested and given a $95,000 bail.”
The conditions of Benzo’s probation include payment of nearly $1000 in fines, anger management classes, 100 hours of community service and submission to any search by police, with or without a warrant or probable cause.
Benzo is also required to stay away from Mendell Plaza and Third Street between Oakdale and Quesada and to remain an arm’s length away from all police.
“We just did an event where we fed over 100 people at that location,” Benzo said to Judge Benson. “People want me to be involved in the planning and execution of those events.”
The stay-away order will be debated at Benzo’s next hearing on June 8.
“Fly Benzo is not guilty and in fact, he was convicted of a jury not of his peers and a jury that didn’t hear the whole story,” said Benzo’s lawyer, Severa Keith. “There is simply no justice in what happened in the courts for him.”
There were no African American jurors on the jury that convicted Benzo, who is black.
Benzo said that he was harassed by police for months prior to his arrest, especially after speaking out about the death of 19-year-old Kenneth Harding, who was fatally shot by police in Mendell Plaza last July.
But Judge Benson refused to allow any evidence related to Benzo’s prior interactions with police.
Keith warned Judge Benson that evidence of unlawful arrest and discriminatory prosecution could grounds for an appeal of the verdict.
“I experienced being taken to a jury trial just for standing up for righteousness, so I know what it is like for my son,” said Benzo’s father, Claude Carpenter. “But it is very difficult for me as a father to see my son being subjected as a political prisoner, ‘cause that’s what he is.”
Archbishop Franzo King of the Saint John Coltrane African Orthodox Church spoke at Benzo’s April 18 news conference in Mendell Plaza.
“I don’t understand how we can (convict) an innocent young black man, who has a 4.0 average at City College, who has been a spokesman and an example in this community, how we can find him guilty, but we can’t find justice for a murder that was committed here,” Archbishop King said, referring to the death of Harding.