Alex Nieto March—Why People Joined It

The family's lawyers, John Burris and Adante Pointer gave the final speeches of the day. Photo by Joe Rivano Barros. See what they had to say below.

The family's lawyers, John Burris and Adante Pointer gave the final speeches of the day. Photo by Joe Rivano Barros. See what they had to say below.

Some 200 supporters of Alex Nieto, a 28-year-old Bernal man who police shot to death on March 21, gathered today on Bernal Hill to march downtown where the family will file papers asking for a civil lawsuit. After a preliminary investigation, police said that Nieto aimed a taser at officers who confused it for a gun. Nieto’s lawyer said he has uncovered new witnesses who contradict that version.

Our reporters will follow different protesters at the march to file an update every 30 minutes on why different individuals have joined the march.

12:40 p.m.
Where: Bernal Heights Park Ring Road
From: Leslie Nguyen-Okwu

Yaotl Ocelote, 32.

Yaotl Ocelote, 32. Photo by Leslie Nguyen-Okwu.

The march got off to a lighter start today as Yaotl Ocelote, 32, joked with friends and encouraged those around him to join the Native American freedom chant that started off the march.

“I’m here to support Alex Nieto as a brother through indigenous descent,” said Ocelotl, who is a member of the Nican Anahusc nation that is native to the valley of Mexico.

He never knew Nieto personally, but says that he understands the “pain and injustice” that Nieto’s family and friends are going through.

“We need to let the world know. We don’t advocate violence. We only seek truth and justice. That is the dualty of life: love and hate,” he said, citing the spiritual values of his clan, the Chorotega group.

AJ Napolis of Coleman Advocates  Photo by Joe Rivano Barros.

AJ Napolis of Coleman Advocates. Photo by Joe Rivano Barros.

AJ Napolis of Coleman Advocates, who knew Nieto when he worked with YMAC, said he was here to show solidarity with Nieto and the work he did with youth. It was ironic what happened, he added, since Nieto was planning to join the police. “His whole trajectory was that he was going to law enforcement. He wanted to move towards criminal justice.”

At the opening rally, Napolis said he was sick of the argument that the police aren’t all bad and that it’s just a few bad apples. He pulled out one wormhole-ridden apple out of a box after the other, each with the name of a different person killed by cops recently—Eric Gartner, Alex Lopez—saying that when one apple becomes rotten, you have to replace the whole bunch.

He added later, “If this happened to my kids, I would want justice immediately. I would be sad, I would be mad, I would be angry.”

1 p.m.
Where: Cesar Chavez and Folsom St.
From: Leslie Nguyen-Okwu

Nina Parks Photo by Leslie Nguyen-Okwu

Nina Parks. Photo by Leslie Nguyen-Okwu

A camera in hand, 30-year-old artist Nina Parks is helping organizers document the protest. She identifies as half-Filipino, half-Jewish and explains that she, like Alex Nieto, has been stopped by police without warrant on numerous occasions.

“Growing up in the Bay Area, the mentality is that brown people are reproached,” Parks said through tears. “A lot of my own friends and family could be shot by police, like Alex Nieto.”

As a result of her experiences, she was involved in the development of community policing at the Bernal Heights Community Center for the last five years.

“In fourth grade U.S. History, I learned that democracy was for the people, by the people,” she said. “When I grew up, I realized that it isn’t democracy unless I participate. That’s why I showed up today.”

2:29 p.m.
Where: 18th and Mission
From: Leslie Nguyen-Okwu

Leslie Nguyen-Okwu

Kevine Boggess. Photo by Leslie Nguyen-Okwu

Kevine Boggess, 33, is director of Youth Organizing at Coleman Advocates, a non-profit organization where Nieto worked. Bogges is an active community advocate for racial equality.

“It’s a reality of growing up as a young man of color,” said Boggess, who grew up near Ingleside and Lakeview. “You might wind up in jail or brig shot at by cops… I feel like we have to show that this is unacceptable.”

2 p.m.
Where: Cesar Chavez and Folsom St.
From: Leslie Nguyen-Okwu

Alex Upchurch Photo by Leslie Nguyen-Okwu

Alex Upchurch. Photo by Leslie Nguyen-Okwu

For Alex Upchurch, a 42-year-old artist and community volunteer, the Alex Nieto Rises Thursday Vigil and Friday Protest were “healing,” as he paid respect to his late friend.

“It took a while to come around because I was mourning him in my own time,” he said. “The vigil was the first time I went to [the hill where Alex Nieto was shot].”

According to Upchurch, Nieto regularly checked up on him when he was homeless for 18 months and he has paid forward the kindness through various volunteering commitments with the Castro Patrol and the National AIDS Memorial Grove.

“He was the only one out of my circle of friends to check on me and made me feel like I was human again…His compassion was simply enormous.”

“The greatest feeling is helping someone that can’t pay you back,” he added.

2:20 p.m.
From: Joe Rivano Barros

Andrew Szeto,right. Photo by Joe Rivano Barros

Andrew Szeto, right, with Erin McElroy, left. Photo by Joe Rivano Barros

Andrew Szeto, a 22-year-old tenant organizer for the San Francisco Tenants Union, is carrying one half of a light blue Eviction Free San Francisco sign with Erin McElroy as he tells me that affordable housing, gentrification and police brutality are all interrelated.

“We’re here because we want to link the housing crisis to police brutality, to state violence, because they’re hand in hand,” he said. “Gentrification doesn’t work without criminalization of black and brown people by the police,” alluding to the phone call that brought police against Nieto, “not to report a crime, but to report a brown person,” he said.

As chants of “Killing children is a crime—Frisco, Ferguson, Palestine!” erupted from protesters at the corner of Market and South Van Ness, Szeto connected the shooting to wider issues of militarization in the United States and abroad.

“The tear gas canisters used in Gaza are the same as those being used in Ferguson and in Oakland now. This is a global struggle, and we’ve got to link causes.”

3:02 p.m.
Where: McAllister and Market, behind City Hall
From: Leslie Nguyen-Okwu

Wanyin Tang, Photo by Leslie Nguyen-Okwu

Wanyin Tang, Photo by Leslie Nguyen-Okwu

Three hours into the march to City Hall, the energy of protesters has not waned. Some people, like Wanyin Tang, are enlivened by the words of encouragement from those on the sidelines.

For Tang, a baker at Arizmendi, keeping abreast of social issues in San Francisco is important. She’s a relative newcomer to San Francisco but explains that recent transplants, like herself, need to be involved in social justice movements.

“As somebody who isn’t from here but lives here, it’s important to recognize the relationship the city’s residents has with the police,” said Tang, who moved to the Mission District a few years ago.

“I think it’s important to be aware of what’s going on,” added Tang, who learned of the protest through word of mouth.

3:17 p.m.
Where: At City Hall
From: Joe Rivano Barros

Photo by Joe Rivano Barros

Photo by Joe Rivano Barros

Five San Francisco sheriffs guarded the entrance to City Hall as the march called for Mayor Ed Lee to come out and address the killing of Nieto.

One deputy sheriff, who would not be named because it’s “against the policy” of the Sheriffs Department for its individual members to give their opinion on police matters, praised the march and defended the free speech of the protesters.

“This city is a pressure valve,” he said. “This reduces the risk of violence. When you go about suppressing people’s right to speak, nothing good happens,” he said, speaking on the crackdown in Ferguson.

Photo by Joe Rivano Barros

Photo by Joe Rivano Barros

He said he is “very saddened” by the loss of Nieto, adding that he thinks it’s a tragedy whenever a young person is shot down.

And he admires the efforts of protesters to make change in their communities. “This is what its all about, man. This is what America is about.”

3:15 p.m.
Where: Federal Building
From: Leslie Nguyen-Okwu

Francisco Herrera, Photo by Leslie Nguyen-Okwu

Francisco Herrera, Photo by Leslie Nguyen-Okwu

As the protest wraps up in front of the Federal Building at 450 Golden Gate Avenue at 3:15 p.m., some 125 people have ceased chanting and are now singing.

Earlier, Francisco Herrera, director of Trabajo Cultural Caminante, broke his nine-day fast as a part of the Alex Nieto Rises protest. His choice of food: bagels he bought from a corner store. Why bagels? “To cross the cultures,” he said.

“It’s one issue, brothers and sisters, that children are fleeing, that killed Alex Nieto: the militarization of the police…That’s why I took on this fast, to create healing in the community.”

3:30 p.m.

From: Leslie Nguyen-Okwu

Mesha Irizany, Photo by Leslie Nguyen-Okwu

Mesha Irizany, Photo by Leslie Nguyen-Okwu

A round of speeches wrapped up the Friday protest around 3:30 p.m. Protesters appeared tired from the three-mile walk, but listened intently as speakers shared their stories.

“My son received 48 bullets from SFPD 33 years ago,” said Mesha Irizany, an administrator at the Idriss Stelley Foundation. “Justice for Alex Nieto!”

(The sign on her back reads, “Danger, Police in the Zone”)

 

 

The family's lawyers, John Burris and Adante Pointer gave the final speeches of the day. Photo by Joe Rivano Barros

The family’s lawyers, John Burris and Adante Pointer gave the final speeches of the day. Photo by Joe Rivano Barros City Hall—The Final Speeches

Where: City Hall—The Final Speeches

From: Joe Rivano Barros

The last speeches at the rally outside the United States Courthouse at 450 Golden Gate Avenue were given by John Burris and Adante Pointer, the two attorneys who will be pushing the case claiming Nieto’s civil rights were violated.

“This is all an effort to justify the violence,” said Burris, referring to the lack of information coming from City Hall on the Nieto killing. “There was no reason for it. To say that a young man would point a taser at a group of cops with their guns drawn—it’s insulting, and everybody who knew Alex knows he wouldn’t have done that.”

Pointer spoke next, jabbing his fist in the air with vigor. “If this was justified,” he said, “why not be transparent? Let us see the files, so we can know what really happened.” He again blasted the city for its delay in releasing both the names of the officers involved and Nieto’s pathology report. As he gave the mic up, he was embraced by Benjamin Bac Sierra of the Justice for Alex Nieto Committee, who heartily patted him on the back and called him a “good friend.”

Sierra closed out the rally, pointing up to the courthouse and promising that Nieto will be accorded his rights under the powers of the U.S. Constitution.

“It’s a pleasure to have been here today with you. You’re in my heart, you’re in my soul,” he said. “We did this today because we have amor and justice in our hearts, and I ask you to leave here with that same amor and justice in your hearts.”

The crowd, fists raised in solidarity, responded in turn, shouting, “Amor!” and “Justice!” as the protest drew to a close.

3 Comments

  1. Sam

    The population of SF is about 800,000, so if 200 people showed up for this protest, then 799,800 did not.

    In other words, 99.975% of the population did not show up. So surely a better question is why such a vast majority did not join the march?

    I’ve been inside taco joints and bars that have more than 200 people there.

    • Mike K

      People also have to work and don’t have time. John Burris was working and he will work the family out of 30% (at least). The city will probably shell out something just to make it go away. Although I believe they should fight it.

    • Michael Andrade

      Sam/John, we can always count on you to belittle any fight for justice.

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