For more than four hours Monday morning, protesters blocked the entrance to Mission Police Station as part of an action against officer-involved shootings in the city and in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement.
More than 200 activists, representing a broad coalition of organizations, began arriving at about 7 a.m. to mark the one-year anniversary of the police shooting of Alex Nieto. They were joined by Nieto’s parents, the Brass Liberation Orchestra, and the youth rhythm and dance ensemble Loco Bloco.
Ten of the protesters joined hands through tubing and created a human chain to block the Valencia Street exit of the Mission Station parking lot. Another set of protesters flanked an empty eBay shuttle, holding large-scale portraits of Alex Nieto and the Mission’s most recent victim of an officer-involved shooting, Amilcar Pérez-López. A banner held in front of the bus read “Gentrification = Violence.” The actions blocked traffic on Valencia Street between 17th and 18th from 7 a.m. to shortly after noon.
“Today we are drawing attention to local faces of national epidemic of police brutality,” said Adriana Camarena, an organizer with the Justice for Alex Nieto Committee and friend of the Nieto family. “Since Alex was killed, four other people have been killed [by police] in San Francisco. We are making a call to stop police impunity. We can no longer have confidence in this system if there are no consequences.”
The activists also issued a list of demands, which included that the officers involved in the shooting be fired, mass displacement be halted, and the officers be subject to a “people’s trial.” Such a people’s trial took place in a piece of street theater outside of the Mission Police Station.
Actors representing the four officers involved in Nieto’s shooting—Officers Roger Morse, Nathan Chew, Richard Schiff, and Sergeant Jason Sawyer—sat with huge masks beside an actor playing a black-robed judge atop a ladder, and others playing lawyers and witnesses. Unlike District Attorney George Gascón, who recently ruled not to charge the officers involved, the judge of the people’s court did not find their case convincing.
“We the People’s Court of San Francisco find the defendants Nathan Chew, Jason Sawyer, Richard Shiff guilty of the murder of Alex Nieto,” read the judge to a large round of applause from the crowd. “We also find DA Gascón guilty of conspiracy, Chief Greg Suhr also guilty of conspiracy and a cover-up, and Mayor Ed Lee guilty of silence.”
When activists performed this scene a second time at the very end of the hours of protest, Elvira and Refugio Nieto, the parents of Alex Nieto, removed the four officers’ prop police badges and tore them into shreds. Refugio stomped the torn badges to the ground amid calls of “¡Justicia!” from the crowd.
With the People’s Court set at the corner of 17th and Valencia, the blocked eBay bus, and the human chain at the entrance of Mission Station’s parking lot, the protest intended to occupy the space for 4 hours and 15 minutes, a number with numerous symbolic significances.
“We are here shutting this street down for four hours and fifteen minutes, because this is our home, the 415, Frisco,” said Violeta Vasquez, one of the day’s MCs. “415 is also the police code for disturbance… we are not the disturbance, though, the real disturbance is police violence.”
Many speakers addressed the crowd throughout the day, representing a broad mix of activist groups concerned with police violence. Many addressed what they see as the link between gentrification and violence, echoing a sentiment that the police primarily serve new, affluent residents in changing neighborhoods like the Mission, not the existing working-class and low-income locals.
“We live in a society where we value property more than human lives,” said Cadine Williams, the sister of O’Shaine Evans, a San Francisco man who was killed in a police shooting in October.
“They enforce the safety of the new people here not the existing communities,” said Cinthya Muñoz, an organizer with Causa Justa. “We have a right to live in our neighborhoods without being displaced.”
While the protesters blocked the Mission Station parking lot, Public Information Officer Albie Esparza said the action was not interfering with the police ability to respond to calls for service with the vehicles they already had out and about. Esparza said the police had no plans to take action against protesters and were simply monitoring their “First Amendment rights activity.”
The day’s action was a nonviolent one without any apparent arrests, though many of the speakers’ anger was tangible in their words.
Eighteen-year-old Sabrina Hernandez, whose family is facing eviction in the Excelsior, used a microphone to address officers standing guard nearby.
“How are you going to call yourselves our protectors when you’re killing us one by one,” Hernandez demanded. “Tell me, because I don’t understand. I don’t feel safe. I don’t feel safe coming up to you and asking your help if you’re killing my people.”
With chanting and drumming the protesters closed the day. Their action had stretched beyond the 4 hour and 15 minute mandate, but with a town hall meeting tonight for the officer-involved shooting death of Alice Brown, the tension and anger is unlikely to subside.
More video and photos of the day’s event below.