For the nine month anniversary of his death, the family and friends of Alex Nieto took to the streets once more Sunday night for a march to a spot they had gathered several times before: the place on Bernal Hill where the 28-year-old was killed by police officers in March, 2014. They were joined by roughly 200 people as well as the families of five other victims of police involved killings in the Bay Area.
Following an Aztec dance, the rally began at the Bart plaza at 24th Street with emotional, often tearful testimony from the five families.
Laurie Valdez, the partner of Antonio Lopez who was killed by police officers in San Jose in February, wept into the megaphone. She said of the investigation into Lopez’s death that “the story keeps changing” and she wants a fuller version of the truth for her 4-year-old son.
Matt Chang spoke of how his brother Errol, a 34-year-old man battling schizophrenia, was killed by a SWAT team in his Pacifica home in March. He said he thought the San Mateo District Attorney’s description of the event as “suicide by police” was far from the truth.
“My brother is dead because of the militarization and procedures of the police force and their inability to deal with people with mental health issues,” said Chang. He explained that in the six-hour standoff before his brother died no psychologist ever arrived on scene to try to talk the troubled man down.
The family of Yanira Serrano Garcia had a similar story about their 18-year-old daughter and sister who died during a confrontation with police in Half Moon Bay in June. The young woman was in the midst of a psychotic episode when a confrontation with police in the family’s kitchen escalated to a fatal shooting.
The sister of O’Shaine Evans, a man killed in a confrontation with San Francisco police officers in North Beach in October 2013, spoke into the megaphone: “It gets harder and harder every day. My brother is never coming home.”
The march came a day after news of the shooting death of two Brooklyn police officers and accusations that the rallies against police could incite more violence against officers. Adriana Camarena, one of the event’s organizers, spoke to the crowd of these developments and read from statements from the Ferguson Action Coalition and Black Lives Matter.
“It is irresponsible to draw connections between this movement and the actions of a troubled man who took the lives of these officers and attempted to take the life of his ex-partner,” Camarena read. “We stand here tonight for the senseless killing of all people.”
She added that while the police officers killed in Brooklyn will be honored in memorials across the country and in the media, “the victims of police brutality will not have the same respect, because they have been criminalized.”
As the rally swelled in size, no uniformed officers could be spotted on the street. Police departments across the country are on alert following the killings in Brooklyn.
When those gathered began to move, what started as a procession along the sidewalk quickly spilled onto the street, blocking traffic along 24th Street in several directions. Led by Aztec dancers and chants of “No Justice, No Peace, Stop the Racist Police,” the march lingered at the corner of Folsom and 24th Street for several minutes.
Mirroring a traditional Mexican Posada, in which a procession stops at various places to make request only to be denied, the march also stopped at the corner of 26th and Folsom. Its request at this corner, the spot where earlier this year a juvenile suspect stabbed and killed 14-year-old Rashawn Williams, was for all street violence to end.
Following a large singalong of the anthem “Which Side Are you On,” the march made its way to the top of Bernal Hill. Lit only by flashlights and the city’s skyline below, a ceremony of indigenous song, Aztec dance, and Buddhist prayer, honored the dead.
Protesters march down 24th Street:
The protest paused for a moment at 26th and Folsom to remember the killing of Rashawn Williams and reflect on violence in the neighborhood beyond just police violence. The group formed a large circle and sang in the intersection: