She 'Rode That Bias Off a Cliff': Man Who Filmed SF Viral Video on Handling 'Karens'
Joe Fitzgerald Rodriguez for KQED (Link to article)
Jaime Juanillo was not looking to 'out' a white woman for making racist remarks last Thursday. In other words, he wasn’t looking to catch a 'Karen.'
(That’s a term often used to describe white women, specifically, who call police to punish Black people and people of color generally while they're enjoying everyday activities — like barbecuing, running a lemonade stand or bird-watching.)
But when a woman named Lisa Alexander and her husband accused Juanillo of a crime for stenciling the words Black Lives Matter with chalk on the retaining wall outside his own home in San Francisco’s Pacific Heights, he was ready with his cellphone.
“Respectfully,” Alexander can be seen telling Juanillo in his video, “absolutely your [Black Lives Matter] signs and everything, that’s good, but this is not the way to do it. It’s private property.”
Yes it was: Juanillo’s property. But, he maintains, being a man of color, Alexander likely assumed he did not live in the expensive home they were standing in front of. She called the police.
Juanillo said in the predominantly wealthy, predominantly white Pacific Heights neighborhood, “It’s not unusual at all for me to get a look like, ‘Do you belong here?’” Juanillo, a Filipino man, has lived with his husband in Pacific Heights for 18 years where he runs a small dog walking business called Pack Heights.
The video interaction Juanillo recorded with Alexander has since gone viral, and been viewed more than 13 million times. The beauty subscription service Birchbox has cut ties with Alexander’s skincare company LAFACE, and she has since issued a public apology, saying "I should have minded my own business."
"I did not realize at the time my actions were racist and have learned a painful lesson," Alexander wrote. Her husband, identified by KTVU as Robert Larkins, was fired from financial firm Raymond James early Monday.
KQED caught up with Juanillo and asked him to break down, in his own words, how he mentally prepared for the fraught interaction: one that's at the forefront of conversations on race, police and freedom of speech in the U.S. right now.
Jaime Juanillo on Handling (and Filming) a 'Karen'
Realizing He Was Right
How did Juanillo maintain his composure throughout the entire “frustrating” experience? He said he knew he had a right to be there — but more than that, he immediately suspected the intentions of Alexander and Larkins had more to do with race than with the chalk itself.
“Lisa and Robert knew it was chalk art, and that it was going to be washed away in the first rain,” Juanillo said.
So if the chalk wasn’t their problem, he believed their problem must have been in the Black Lives Matter message itself. “And once I knew that,” he said, “I can act how I needed to act. It was simple after that.”
Juanillo added, “They're wrong. And they rode that racial bias all the way off a cliff.”
Knowing the Power of Video
From a chilling eye-witness view of George Floyd’s killing at the hands of Minneapolis police and Eric Garner’s killing by New York police, to a New York woman’s dangerous promise to falsely claim a Black man was threatening her in a confrontation in Central Park, video has provided evidence of how racism pervades the lives of Black Americans and other people of color.
For Juanillo outside his own home in San Francisco, it was no different. He argued that showing the world the every day, more subtle racist conflicts can prove to white people that they even exist.
“If enough people see incidents like this, then maybe people will actually think about it and change their behavior,” Juanillo said. And, he added, contrary to critiques he received on Twitter, arguing would not have helped.
“Do you really think they're going to believe me if I point out a $10 million house and say I live there?” Juanillo said.
Knowledge Beats Ignorance
“She kind of said this very clearly, placating, condescending, speaking-to-a-fifth-grader tone. And that's what I responded to,” Juanillo said.
But this is his home city, his home turf. He knew he had a right to be here.
Juanillo is originally from the Philippines and has lived in San Francisco since childhood, attending St. Ignatius College Preparatory High School.
He was armed with more knowledge, too: He knew he had lived in that Pacific Heights house for 18 years. Juanillo and his husband had even been married in that backyard. He knew his neighbors “all recognize and love me.” And he even knew the police officers who eventually pulled up to respond to Alexander’s phone call.
“So the police come up the hill and they make a big show of pulling their patrol car into my driveway,” Juanillo said. “I recognize the police officer and he recognizes me. And I yell out to him, I'm like, 'are you responding to a Black Lives Matter call?' And I'm like, I did that.”
Juanillo points to his chalk stencil. “I'm all proud of it and stuff. And the police officer goes, ‘Oh, hey, you live here!’” He recalled how the officer calmly — cheerfully, even — said, “‘Great stenciling work!’" before driving off. No request for ID. No face to the concrete. Not even a solitary siren shriek.
Juanillo had in fact spoken to many neighborhood cops outside his home after an emergency at his neighbor’s house last year. “Lisa didn't know that about me. She didn't know that calling the police would probably result in a whole lot of nothing,” he said.
But that doesn’t erase the gravity of what she was trying to do, he said. “You can presume that she knew by calling the police that I could possibly die. She was OK with that,” Juanillo said. “Even knowing that I was just working with chalk, she's willing to call men with guns.”
Extending the Olive Branch
After all was said and done, Juanillo went back to his home, stood at his living room window, and knocked on the glass loudly enough to grab the attention of Lisa Alexander and her companion, Robert.
He was ready to accept their apology and not post the video that went viral, Saturday.
No such luck.
“The look on their faces was total mortification,” Juanillo said.
They then ran — down, down, down the hill toward the Marina District. Juanillo went ahead and posted the video of their earlier interaction to Twitter.
“If they had if they had come up to my door and they had apologized, I would have accepted it, not posted this. And they could have kept their businesses and lives intact,” Juanillo said. “It was all up to them: Action after action after action.”
Pushing for Progress
Juanillo said that despite the actions of the two people he recorded Saturday, he still believes his neighborhood has moral fiber,
After taking heat for stenciling Black Lives Matter on his own retaining wall, Juanillo said, “I can tell you from my Nextdoor and Facebook responses my neighbors will start doing the same next week.”
“I might have been the first,” he said, “but I'm not going to be the last.”