Couple apologizes after confronting man over 'Black Lives Matter' chalk in front of his home

Lisa Alexander, founder and CEO of LaFace Skincare, apologized and her husband was fired after questioning a neighbor's Black Lives Matter chalk.
Image: James Juanillo stands next to a chalk message outside of his home in San Francisco on June 14, 2020.
James Juanillo stands next to a chalk message outside of his home in San Francisco on June 14, 2020.Jeff Chiu / AP

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By Suzanne Ciechalski, David K. Li and Rima Abdelkader

A San Francisco man used chalk to write "Black Lives Matter" in front of his house, prompting a white couple to demand to know whether he lived there, in an accusation that cost one person his job on Monday.

The incident - which unfolded in the city's tony Pacific Heights neighborhood last week and was recorded in video that went viral - led Raymond James Financial to fire the male accuser, Robert Larkins.

"Raymond James has zero tolerance for racism or discrimination of any kind,” according to the company’s statement. “An inclusive workplace is fundamental to our culture, and we expect our associates to conduct themselves appropriately inside and outside of the workplace."

The statement continued: “After an investigation into the circumstances of a video alleging racism by one of our associates, 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."

Larkins apologized on Monday for confronting San Francisco resident James Juanillo as he used chalk to express his support for Black Lives Matter.

"Over the last two days, I have had my eyes opened wide to my own ignorance of racial inequity, and I have thought a lot about my own personal blind spots," according to a statement by Larkins.

"I was wrong to question Mr. Juanillo, and I was wrong to call the neighborhood police watch. It was wrong, and I am profoundly sorry for treating him with disrespect."

Juanillo said he was moved to support protesters demanding action against police brutality and systemic racism in the wake of George Floyd's death in Minneapolis.

"I decided that I was going to stencil a message of solidarity to my people of color, because I'm Filipino-American," Juanillo told NBC News. "I decided to stencil 'Black Lives Matter' on our retaining wall in front of our house."

Juanillo said he has lived in that Gough Street home, which he shares with his husband and five friends, since 2002.

"We are a family," he said. "I'm a real resident who knows my neighbors."

Juanillo's chalk work drew the attention of Lisa Alexander, CEO of LaFace Skincare, and her husband as they strolled through the neighborhood.

"As soon as I finish the 'R' in 'Matter,' Lisa pops up," he said.

Juanillo, 50, videotaped them asking whether he was the homeowner.

"Because it's private property, are you defacing private property?" the husband asked, standing well beyond Alexander who did most of the talking. "You're free to express your opinions, but not on people's property."

Juanillo posted the footage to social media and by Monday afternoon, it had been viewed more than 16 million times on Twitter.

"This is not the way to do it," Alexander said in the video. "It's private property."

When Juanillo said he wasn't breaking any laws, Alexander responded: "Yes you are, actually."

Juanillo told the couple they could call the police if they thought he was breaking a law, and Alexander said they would.

"And that, people, is why black lives matter. That's 'Karen' and she's calling the cops," Juanillo said in his video, using internet shorthand for a white woman calling police to report a person of color doing an otherwise innocuous activity.

San Francisco police told NBC News that, on June 9, they received "a report of a vandalism in progress" in the 2000 block of Gough Street.

"Officers met with a resident and determined there was no merit to a crime and the officers went back in service," according to an SFPD statement.

The famously liberal San Francisco Bay Area has seen its share of incidents similar to Juanillo's.

A white woman, later dubbed "BBQ Becky," called 911 two years ago after spotting men using a BBQ grill at Oakland's Lake Merritt. Months later, a woman, later called "Permit Patty," called police on an 8-year-old Black girl who was selling water bottles in San Francisco.

"She should know in this environment," Juanillo said, "that a white person like her of privilege calling the cops on a person of color for a perceived crime could result in death."

Alexander apologized on Sunday.

“There are not enough words to describe how truly sorry I am for being disrespectful to him last Tuesday when I made the decision to question him about what he was doing in front of his home," Alexander said in a statement. “I should have minded my own business.”

The viral video has already cost Alexander. Birchbox, which distributes beauty products via a subscription service, said over the weekend that it has cut ties with Alexander over her “racist actions.”

“When I watch the video I am shocked and sad that I behaved the way I did,” Alexander said in the statement.

Juanillo said the couple was wrong and that Alexander "never operated in good faith."

"Even if I was a random chalk artist just drawing chalk on this wall, that’s not a crime," he said. "That’s not vandalism, that’s not defacing property. Even if I didn’t live here they shouldn’t have stopped me."

Larkins acknowledged he was wrong.

"I have a lot to learn about how racism impacts people in their lives, daily, I have hurt my neighbor. I am full of regret and very sorry," according to Larkins' statement.

"I am hoping to meet with him soon to express my sincere apology and to ask for his forgiveness and guidance in helping me begin the journey towards being a kinder, more thoughtful and sensitive person."

Mohammed Syed, Janelle Griffith and Associated Press contributed.