DA candidates mill about on stage after protesters took over a debate forum at San Francisco State. DA Brooke Jenkins would soon leave the stage and not return, leaving John Hamasaki and Joe Alioto Veronese on their own. Photo by Annika Hom

Ladies and gentlemen: Brooke Jenkins has left the building.

On Thursday night, the District Attorney debate at San Francisco State University took a strange turn when dozens of activists interrupted the event to protest against appointed incumbent DA Jenkins, leading her to walk off the stage and not return. The young activists, led by Black San Francisco State students, denounced Jenkins for her decision not to prioritize the criminal trials of San Francisco Police officers who had shot and killed civilians, and her move to prosecute some minors as adults in specific circumstances.

After Jenkins’ exit, the debate resumed with candidates John Hamasaki, Joe Alioto Veronese and Jenkins’ empty chair.

One protester, Balto, said he demonstrated in solidarity with his friend Keita O’Neil, who was shot dead by San Francisco Police Officer Chris Samayoa five years ago. Samayoa faces criminal manslaughter charges, but O’Neil’s family has accused Jenkins of putting off the trial until after November’s election — after which the matter may be dropped. 

“She’s trying to prosecute minors at 16 or 17. She’s also tried to dismantle the Innocence Project, which has been really a big concern,” Balto continued while neatly folding up a banner that called Jenkins a “killer.” 

Thursday’s debate was organized by Project Rebound, a San Francisco State program that helps formerly incarcerated people enroll in college. The plan coming in was to ask DA candidates questions about youth, mental health and the criminal justice system. 

The moderator had directed the second question of the evening to Jenkins, asking her to explain her controversial decision to pull veteran Judge Anthony Kline from juvenile cases over allegations of bias, as reported by The San Francisco Chronicle

“Sometimes we have to make very tough strategic decisions based on the need to promote more public safety,” Jenkins replied. 

Those would be her last public words of the night. 

Protesters interrupted the SFSU DA forum. Photo by Annika Hom.

By then, everyone listening to the debate inside Jack Adams Hall could hear the faint chants wafting from outside. At first, no one budged; it’s not uncommon to find demonstrators heckling candidates, especially regarding the hot-button District Attorney races this year. Ousted former DA Chesa Boudin, Jenkins, and other candidates have learned to power through forums as their critics show up outside and yell taunts through loudspeakers and bang on windows. Just prior to the debate, Project Rebound asked that no one bring signs into the auditorium or interrupt. 

That did not stop Thursday night’s protesters, who climbed up the stairs wielding banners reading “Reimagine our future!” and chanting loudly. The debate organizers watched, stunned. As the sound grew, the debate’s moderator, Gaia the Empress, and the hundreds of audience members started eyeing the door instead of the stage. Attempting to maintain composure, the moderator asked Hamasaki how he would have dealt with Judge Kline. 

“I’m sorry, can you repeat it?” Hamasaki said distractedly, watching along with the  rest of the spectators as the room slowly filled with protesters. Their shouts were unmistakable then: “Sean Moore, Keita O’Neil, Sean Moore, Keita O’Neil.” 

“I said, would you please explain how you would handle this situation?” the moderator pressed. 

“Well…” Hamasaki said. He needn’t finish.

Soon, nearly 100 protesters stood at the foot of the debate stage, chanting Moore and O’Neil’s name over and over. The chants referred to Sean Moore, an unarmed Black man who was shot in 2017 by San Francisco Police Officer Kenneth Cha, and died of his injuries in 2020. 

Prosecuting cops — or not prosecuting them — is another weighty issue for November’s DA race. In 2020, Boudin made headlines for criminally prosecuting an on-duty officer for the first time in city history when he filed felony homicide and manslaughter charges against Samayoa, the rookie cop who shot and killed O’Neil. Boudin made the practice a priority, and charged Cha with manslaughter, too.

After Samayoa’s trial was delayed this summer and Boudin was recalled, O’Neil’s supporters worried a new district attorney would further delay the trial. 

After the protesters arrived, the district attorney candidates got up from their seats and lingered, trying to wait it out. Project Rebound executive director Jason Bell took the stage and teetered between encouraging the youth — “I guess the people have spoken”  — and telling them to quit it. Everyone on stage looked at each other, unsure what to do. Eventually, Jenkins went backstage and did not return. 

“Listen, Brooke is gone, it’s over,” Bell told the activists. “You’re going to do this till you’re hoarse?”

“We don’t have a mic, you dumbass,” a young man in a beanie yelled back.

And then they did. The protesters, who witnesses said consisted of a women’s coalition and anti-police group F12 members and Black and Brown San Francisco State students, climbed on the stage and faced the audience with their signs. One woman took the microphone and delivered an impassioned speech. “Those closest to those experiencing the problem are the best to identify the solutions. We don’t work for you, we work to support the youth,” she said. “One way to improve accountability to the community is to honor our demands.”

The protesters left soon after, along with at least a quarter of the original audience.

“Hella disconnected from the culture,” one protester said to Bell, shaking his head on his way out.

Bell announced the debate would continue with Veronese and Hamasaki, highlighting the need for dialogue. A new moderator took the stage, questioning the candidates in a defeated tone about Collaborative Courts and immigration; the  audience appeared checked out as well.  Contrarily, Veronese and Hamasaki appeared jubilant over their competitor’s departure, and didn’t pass up any opportunities to bring it up in the forum. 

“That’s what you’re seeing with these young kids; people stepping up,” Veronese said, beaming. “You need to look at who’s on stage here, and those who are not on stage.”

“I’m not going to run out the back door if you have issues with me; that’s what being a responsible leader is,” Hamasaki said. “If you’re a leader, you can take the criticism. You can take the heat.”

The remaining spectators, who came to listen to the dialogue, had mixed reactions to the debate. Lisa, a longtime resident dressed in a pale button down, said she “loved” the demonstration; how else will people take them seriously? “They have no choice,” she said. However her friend was frustrated, saying that he wouldn’t know Jenkins’ answers to the remaining questions. 

Bell, the debate organizer, agreed. “I understand the space they come from. The pain, the anger,” he said. Bell himself was formerly incarcerated. He even recognized one protester as a participant in an Education and Empowerment program his organization runs at a county jail. “DA’s said vicious things against us,” Bell said. “We wanted to ask questions in a whole different light.”

Project Rebound did get to cap the night with one topical question: Would the candidates pursue criminal charges against officers? “Yes or no, no nuance,” she stressed. Hamasaki and Veronese said yes. Jenkins wasn’t there to answer the question.

$
$
$

Your contribution is appreciated.

Follow Us

REPORTER. Annika Hom is our inequality reporter through our partnership with Report for America. Annika was born and raised in the Bay Area. She previously interned at SF Weekly and the Boston Globe where she focused on local news and immigration. She is a proud Chinese and Filipina American. She has a twin brother that (contrary to soap opera tropes) is not evil.

Follow her on Twitter at @AnnikaHom.

Join the Conversation

27 Comments

Please keep your comments short and civil. We will zap comments that fail to adhere to these short and very easy-to-follow rules.

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

  1. “On the day of his deadly encounter with police, Keita O’Neil had been suspected of assaulting a state lottery worker and stealing her government-issued minivan in the city’s Potrero Hill neighborhood. He then led officers on a haphazard chase to the city’s Bayview neighborhood, where he resided, before ending up surrounded by patrol cars on a dead-end street …. The judge wrote that neither surveillance camera footage nor video from Samayoa’s body camera offered a clear picture of what O’Neil did with his hands as he darted from the stolen van. ” [Courthouse News]

  2. This city needs to be cleaned up! Look at what is going on around the streets and neighborhoods. Jenkins is needed to get this city back on the right path and citizens have a right to be outside, or ride bart in safety. GO JENKINS!

  3. Remember: Rabid recallers filed papers a mere 3 days after the 2019 election. Boudin wasn’t even in office yet. Each and every day for nearly 2 years and during a global pandemic when our courts and jails were shut down, the recallers stoked fear and hatred with false claims. Our former democratically elected (not installed by the Mayor) DA and his family also received daily threats of violence and death. Unhinged, opportunistic vigilante whackos like Leanna Louie stoked fear and loathing on a daily basis. The people who demonstrated at Thursday’s debate were peaceful…….yes, they were loud but they were peaceful. Yet Brooke Jenkins fled the building. That’s not what a leader does. Our former DA endured threats, violence and ginned up rage for nearly 2 years. Jenkins is unfit to serve the public and should step down. People are outraged by the injustice of her tone deaf actions. The Recall made things toxic. I blame this Mayor and her billionaire donors, the backers of the toxic recall. Choosing Brooke Jenkins was inflammatory and misguided. This will not end well.

    1. Why isn’t Chesa running in this election? Given that it was just supposedly a minority of voters who don’t represent the majority of SF residents pushing him out in a special recall election, it seems like it would be easy for him to get his rightful job back this fall in a regularly scheduled election that’s sure to have much higher turnout.

    2. Well said! And so was Rita Moreno’s response! S.F. needs clear, progressive thought if we are to become the city of promise again!

  4. Totally despicable behavior by left wing fascists and totally unsurprising in SF where every kind of diversity is celebrated except the diversity of ideas.

    1. This Mayor and her appointee are most certainly despicable. Power tripping. Corrupt. Both liars. Both unfit for elected office. Why run or hold public office when you refuse to answer to the People who are helped (or harmed) by your decisions? Literally ran from the building. Shame. Go be a lobbyist for realtors London. Go be a lobbyist for cops Brooke. 6 figure pay and you don’t have to answer to voters.

  5. I’m not a fan of Jenkins and I feel she was probably relieved not to have to actually debate with anyone.

  6. This is how SF progressives “converse” today: yelling the same thing over and over again until the grownups leave the room.

    If you want to have a dialogue, that means the other person gets to talk also.

  7. Good move by Jenkins! Never give in to intimidations by the radical mob! Jenkins will win. The silent majority.

  8. I totally understand the protesters. But they need to be more respectful (not talking about respecting Interim DA Jenkins). Yelling at my guy Jason Bell, saying he’s disconnected from the culture. I’m a project rebound alumni! Jason is with it! With us! I better see y’all protestors are the polls on November. Hopefully y’all elders teach you some respect!

  9. “Activists” …. Crazy hot heads who can only offer destruction and chaos and the main reasons why, the Republicans will take both the Senate and House next month.

  10. I speculate she fled since she doesn’t have a remotely legitimate reason to kick off the legendary, esteemed judge Kline. Her reference to ‘…public safety’ could only lead her to admit his so-called “bias” conflicts with hers, which is to incarcerate juveniles. She’s a show-woman, and I bet she thinks this dramatic stunt will win votes among the voters who are fearful of youth of color.

  11. How petulant. Instead of a forum and a chance for voters to get educated on all the candidates, just hijack the discussion and silence those you disagree with. Must be feeling backed into a corner, by the look of recent polls.

  12. “The young activists, led by Black San Francisco State students”

    I’m sorry, has the definition of “Black” changed? Because that looks to me like a lot of white people chanting at the DA, who is actually half Black, for real.

    1. Did you forget the definition of “led by”? Turns out that people of all colors care about justice, bro.

      1. Look at the video, “bro.”

        That’s a lottttttttttttt of chanting white people.

        “Led by” is a copout; a way of hiding the reality. It’s white progressives shouting down a black/Latina DA. That’s the reality. Watch for yourself — “bro.”

        1. SFSU’s Golden Gate Express has better video and a pic which both make it plainly obvious the protesters are by far predominantly POC; and the video clearly shows they were led into the room by two BLACK women.

          Speaking of “copout,” the video also shows the guy on stage in Annika Hom’s photo (guy with the longer cut suit coat to the right of Jenkins’ husband) is indeed the cop detail (video shows belt badge). I bet $20 his right hand is on his weapon in Hom’s photo.

          “Reality” is in the eye of the observer. The reporter was there, and you, evidently, were not.

    2. Representation matters, but it ain’t everything. Yes, Jenkins is “Black and Latina”. She is also dishonest, corrupt and utterly regressive. She is taking SF back to the failed war on drugs and unleashing the worst cops on Black and Latino communities in SF. Our court system is overwhelmed with cases of Black and Latino people stopped and searched for Driving While Black or Brown by a police force operating with impunity, knowing the DA will never stop their worst abuses. She is literally the Black and Latino communities’ worst nightmare.
      So can we please stop complaining about what race the people protesting the dishonest, corrupt and vindictive cop lover DA are? We should all be protesting her because she’s dishonest and corrupt — I don’t care if you’re white, black, brown, green or blue. If you give a shit about the integrity or honesty of the person who has the power to destroy Black and Brown lives and throw people in cages, you should protest her. She is utterly unfit for office. She almost certainly committed a crime, a campaign finance one. The war on drugs was a failure and she won’t win it, yet she says “it’s not a war on drugs, it’s a war on fentanyl…” like what, that’s not a drug?
      People protested the fact that they don’t trust her to prosecute bad cops. That’s real and that’s awesome. She can’t take criticism so she ran away like the coward she is. It’s ok, she can go back to her parties where certain people (like the Asian American man who yelled anti-Black things at protesters) don’t mind having a DA who doesn’t care about racial justice or dirty cops.

      1. A shorter version of what I try to post before.

        Here we go with the Asian bashing again. Asian Americans support different candidates. In fact there’re different factions within the community supporting different candidates, not different from other communities. Reminds me of the Alameda county DA candidate who made a disrespectful comments about Asian Americans in San Francisco just blindly follow in their voting as if they don’t have any intelligence and no other groups does that. There’s no excuse for anybody to be racist. Be aware of this dangerous ‘Asians versus black and brown people’ narrative.
        BTW. I was at the USF debate. There were at least 20 police and sheriffs there and maybe why there was no disruption. And I would be afraid if I was a controversial official such as Jenkins or hamasaki & target of a rowdy crowd. You never know what’s going to happen these days. I probably would have left too with so little security around. I didn’t stay till the end because the debate started really late like 30 minutes late because they had to wait for everyone to arrive. But your other piece about that debate stated that it was to Jenkins’ advantage because she was ‘ selected to give opening and closing statement’ or something like that by the ‘moderator Chin. ‘ ( I personally don’t see any advantage to that. Everyone had ample time to speak. ) Actually Judge Chin’s ground rules were speakers take turn in alphabetical order. And with each question the orders were rotated. In fact he skipped Jenkins once and she had to grab the mic. I doubt there was any conspiracies a suggested by your writers and commentators here.

  13. Jenkins’ husband pulling double-duty as a security guard in that pic. Not exactly a little guy.

    “I put my hand above my hip
    I bet you dip, he dip, she dip”

    1. Hey Rosh,

      Always great to see your tag.

      I also thought the cops did a good job and the ‘protestors’ were pretty much choreographed like a Broadway line.

      Give Jade a win here.

      Nothing supports her candidate’s call for law and order more than a rowdy crowd.

      Unless our Dominion machines get confused I’m making it Hamasaki most first place votes and …

      I dunno.

      Can’t wait to see McCafferey back home tomorrow.

      h.

      1. You know cops get no props from me. I salute the protesters (and organizer Emily Lee) who put the pout on Jenkins.

        Guaranteed, Jenkins won’t prosecute the officers who shot Góngora or Moore. That leaves former officer Samayoa, who shot O’Neil.

        Jenkins is going to win. We’ll find out after that if she has any guts or free will at all.

        1. Too sweeping an indictment of cops,

          They will act as they are recruited and trained and mentored and modeled to act.

          That’s why we need a Reform Police Chief.

          Doesn’t matter if Jenkins wins on some fluke rise in the SF Public Hate Response.

          We’ll watch Jenkins and the cops fail to improve and we’ll see thousands of needless years of suffering added to sentences to feed the burgeoning Prison Industrial Complex.

          Then, barring a nuclear war, we’ll elect a Reform top cop and probably a Reform DA next year if not this.

          See LWV debate?

          Maurice is like Colombo.

          Go Niners !

          h.