A California woman and cosmetics CEO claims she’s learned a valuable lesson about racism and white privilege after being described as the latest “Karen” to call police on an innocent person of colour in San Francisco.
Lisa Alexander, CEO of LAFACE Skin Care, and investment banker Robert Larkins have both apologized for the now-viral video, which shows them confronting James Juanillo outside his home last week in an incident widely condemned as racist.
Juanillo, who is Filipino, recorded the video outside his house, where he was stencilling “Black Lives Matter” in chalk on his own retaining wall. The video shows a white couple, who identify themselves as “Lisa” and “Robert,” questioning Juanillo about his actions on “private property.” They claim to know who lives in his home and vow to report him to police when he refuses to answer their questions.
“A white couple call the police on me, a person of colour, for stenciling a #BLM chalk message on my own front retaining wall,” Juanillo wrote in a tweet with the video last Friday, which has been watched more than 15 million times.
Juanillo also referred to Alexander as a “Karen” — a shorthand for white women who bring their trivial complaints to people in power (i.e. “I’d like to speak to the manager”). The term has often been used in recent months for white women who falsely report people of colour to police, such as in the case of Amy Cooper, who falsely claimed a Black birdwatcher was threatening her in Central Park.
Cooper was ultimately fired from a lucrative investment job after her target, Christian Cooper, recorded the video and shared it online. The incident triggered intense backlash just a few days before George Floyd died in police custody in Minneapolis, Minn.
Juanillo’s two-minute video shows Alexander and Larkins treating him as though he were a vandal. Alexander speaks in a calm voice with a broad smile on her face throughout the video while Larkins stands at a distance, seemingly filming on his phone.
“Is this your property? Hi, I’m asking if this is your property,” Alexander asks Juanillo at the beginning of the video.
Juanillo doesn’t give her an answer and instead wants to know why she’s asking.
“Are you defacing private property?” Larkins says from a distance. “You’re free to express your opinions, just not on people’s property.”
Alexander then says: “We’re just saying, absolutely, your signs and everything, that’s good, but this is not the way to do it. It’s private property.”
Juanillo then challenges the couple by pointing out that they don’t know who lives at the house.
“We actually do know, that’s why we’re asking,” Alexander claims, while still smiling widely and bringing her finger to her chin in a pensive gesture. “We know the person who does live here.”
Juanillo responds by urging the pair to call police.
“You’re accusing me of a crime, correct? And I’m not answering you. Your choices are to call the cops if you believe I’m committing a crime, and I’d be more than happy to talk to them.”
Alexander and Larkins say they aren’t doing anything illegal but Juanillo is, and they will be calling the police on him.
“I’ll be standing right here,” Juanillo says. He ends the video by showing the stencil he’s just completed on his wall.
“And that, people, is why Black Lives Matter,” he says.
Juanillo told Storyful that police ultimately did show up at his home, but they recognized him immediately and “left without getting out of their patrol car.”
He told NBC Bay Area that he felt comfortable daring Alexander to call police because he’s lived in the neighbourhood for over a decade and knows the officers who work there.
“I don’t recommend this for any other person of colour,” he said. “Do not dare your Karens to call the cops.”
San Francisco police confirmed that they were called to the scene in a statement to NBC Bay Area.
Online reaction to Juanillo’s video has been fierce and unforgiving, particularly after Alexander was identified as the CEO of LAFACE Skin Care.
One popular tweet suggested there “ought to be an ‘Anti-Karening Law'” that would make it a hate crime to call police on people of colour for trivial reasons. “Enough is enough, ‘Karen,'” the user wrote, in a tweet that’s been liked by more than 17,000 people.
Thousands supported calls for people to boycott LAFACE Skin Care for Alexander’s actions.
Birchbox, a cosmetic subscription service, announced that it had cut ties with LAFACE amid the backlash over the weekend.
LAFACE Skin Care’s website was offline on Monday morning, but an archived version of the site features a video of Alexander discussing her products. The captioned video identifies her as the founder and CEO.
Alexander apologized to Juanillo in a public statement on Sunday and said she’d like to take Juanillo out for coffee.
“I did not realize at the time that my actions were racist and have learned a painful lesson. I am taking a hard look at the meaning behind white privilege and am committed to growing from this experience,” she said in a statement. “I should have minded my own business.”
Alexander’s partner, Robert Larkins, also apologized in a separate statement.
“I was wrong to question Mr. Juanillo, and I was wrong to call the neighborhood police watch,” he wrote in a statement obtained by ABC 7. “It was wrong, and I am profoundly sorry for treating him with disrespect.”
Larkins’ employer, Raymond James, announced that he’d been fired in a statement on Monday morning.
“Raymond James has zero tolerance for racism or discrimination of any kind,” the company said in a statement. “We have concluded that the actions of he and his partner were inconsistent with our values, and the associate is no longer employed with Raymond James.”
Juanillo retweeted that statement on Monday morning and has continued to share critical tweets about the couple in the wake of their stated apologies.
“What she did is polite racism,” he told ABC 7.
John Newmeyer, who co-owns the house where Juanillo lives, told NBC Bay Area that he doesn’t know Alexander or Larkins.
“This is the kind of assumption that’s a subtle racism,” Newmeyer said of the interaction. “I mean, it’s not that vicious but still shows us a lot about how far we have to go. Don’t assume just because someone is a person of colour he doesn’t belong.”
He added in an interview with NBC Bay Area that he’s open to an apology if Alexander comes to him in person.
“If she just comes to my door we can put this away,” he said. “We can have a kumbaya moment.”
—With files from The Associated Press