San Francisco rapper Yung Lott had big plans to film a music video for his song “Demo” all around Bayview-Hunters Point; the nine collaborators on the song were going to perform a verse each at a different spot in the neighborhood.
“I was trying to bring people together and show off their talents,” Lott says.
But the video didn't turn out to be that attempt at artistic unity. As the group began filming rapper Joeski's verse at a playground around 5:30 p.m. on March 8, a dozen cops raided the scene. Raw footage of the police sweep, released on YouTube by videographer Brian Storm, showed the cops storming into the shoot, guns drawn.
“They had us all in handcuffs and they went around searching us all. They went around taking pictures, and you know, touching everybody,” says Lott.
The mass detention of 20 black men isn't great PR for the SFPD, which is already under fire after the news media got word of racist and homophobic text messages exchanged among active officers. Still, Officer Albie Esparza says the searches that day were justified, because police spotted a man with a loaded gun walking into the crowd. Thus, cops were within their right to search everyone else for “officer safety reasons.” (The man, Taj Williams, was arrested for being a felon in possession of a loaded firearm.)
“It was not a stop-and-frisk,” Esparza says. “They were not randomly stopped by the police.”
But Public Defender Jeff Adachi says that there is no excuse for police to be “doing a wholesale search,” noting that they need a “specific, articulable reason” to search any individual.
“This is a classic case of racial profiling,” Adachi says. “Even if you assumed that they had a reason to search one man, that doesn't mean that you can search everyone. Can you imagine this happening in Pacific Heights? Can you imagine this happening to a group of white tourists? No. It wouldn't.”
Adachi says black and Latino men in San Francisco are subject to such unjustified searches all the time. Lott agrees, saying this has been his experience. However, this was the first time a San Francisco cop had pointed a gun at him. “We weren't let go until about 8:45p.m. When I got up my hands was numb, my bottom was numb,” he says.
After the playground shot was filmed, Lott had planned to shoot his own verse of “Demo” on Shafter Avenue in the Bayview, the street where he grew up. The police raid changed that. Once released, he says, “I went straight home. I didn't even shoot my part. I shot my part inside my house.”