Christopher Cukor says murder of his father in Berkeley prompted him to call police on a black man

The white man who called San Francisco police after he mistakenly believed a black man was trespassing in his apartment complex has apologized — and explained that his paranoia was rooted in the murder of his father in Berkeley in 2012 by a mentally ill black man who was off his medication.

Christopher Cukor wrote a piece on Medium, “One Conversation, Two Histories,” explaining his actions on July 4 and expressing some regret for the misunderstanding between himself and Wesly Michel. “I was coming into this situation with my unique history,” Cukor wrote. “My father was murdered outside his home by a trespasser who he confronted alone.”

Cukor and his son had been leaving their apartment complex on Van Ness Avenue and Washington Street on July 4, according to news reports. As they exited through the locked front door, Michel came inside. Cukor asked him why he was there, and Michel explained he was visiting a friend. Cukor suggested Michel call his friend on the apartment complex call phone to prove what he was saying. Michel declined to do so.

Cukor then accused Michel of trespassing and called the San Francisco police to report that an African American man had “tailgated” him into the complex. Michel videoed the interaction.

As Cukor described Michel to the police, Michel said he was a 35-year-old software designer. “It’s illegal to call the cops on African Americans,” Michel said.

Cukor’s young son grew upset at the interaction and repeatedly pleaded with his father to not talk to the police. “I don’t like this,” he said, pulling on Cukor’s gray down jacket. “Please don’t do this, daddy. Daddy, let’s go.”

Michel suggested Cukor heed the advice of his son.

“I’m recording you right now. You’re just going to be the next person on TV,” Michel said on the video.  “Just remember that. And your son’s with you.”

Around then, Michel’s friend, Kathy, arrived at the apartment complex.

Michel uploaded the video to Facebook and YouTube, where more than 3 million people have seen it, according to USA Today.

Many people are regarding this incident as another in a line of white people calling police on black people going about their daily activities. In Oakland, a white woman questioned black people barbecuing in a park. She was branded “BBQ Becky” on social media. Cukor has been branded #callboxchristopher, according to USA Today. People are demanding that his employer, YouTube, fire him.

On July 9, Cukor penned a piece on Medium, explaining his side of the story and rooting his reaction, in part, to the 2012 murder of his father, Peter Cukor, in the Berkeley hills. (Although he did not go into specifics.)

“Here’s where the complexity begins,” wrote Cukor. “I was coming into this situation with my unique history. My father was murdered outside his home by a trespasser who he confronted alone. For my child’s safety, my safety and that of the building, I felt it was necessary to get help in this situation. Furthermore, I’ve encountered trespassers in my building and we’ve been robbed several times. This is not uncommon in San Francisco and the bad actors are all different colors.”

The murder of Peter Cukor on Feb. 18, 2012, by Daniel DeWitt was not only a personal tragedy for the family but highlighted the difficulties parents of mentally ill adults have in getting them into treatment. The Berkeley Police Department was also criticized for its response to the incident.

Peter Cukor, 67, and his wife Andrea were returning to their Park Hills home around 8:45 p.m. when they spotted a man, later identified as DeWitt, 23, hanging around their house. They went into the house. Peter Cukor then called the police department’s non-emergency number to report a trespasser. He and his wife had recently attended a neighborhood safety meeting and had been told to use that number while using a cell phone.

Cukor then left the house to walk to the fire station across the street, presumably to report the trespasser. No firefighters were there. When he returned to the house, he asked DeWitt to leave. DeWitt picked up a flowerpot and hit Cukor over the head. Andrea Cukor called 911 at 9:02 p.m. Police arrived within a few minutes and tracked down DeWitt, who had fled. The young man, who had been in and out of mental institutions since he was 18, was arrested around 9:22 p.m. Cukor was pronounced dead at the hospital.

Berkeley police were later criticized for not responding more quickly to Cukor’s original call to the non-emergency number. The department was stretched that night as police were monitoring an Occupy Oakland march making its way from Oakland to Berkeley. Officers were on standby to respond to that demonstration. Cukor’s call to the non-emergency number had been ranked a Priority 2, which meant police would respond within 20 minutes. A Priority 1 call would prompt an immediate response.

Then Berkeley Police Chief Michael Meehan said his department had done nothing wrong. The Cukor family sued the city of Berkeley. The Cukor family settled the lawsuit in exchange for promises to change the questions dispatchers ask those calling during an emergency.

DeWitt was sentenced to a 33-year term which he is serving in Napa State Hospital.

“I’m sorry my actions caused Wesly to feel unfairly targeted due to his race,” Cukor wrote in his post on Medium.