Dozens of protesters demanded on Friday that Mayor Ed Lee respond to police shootings and fire a police officer who allegedly posted a controversial online comment just hours after he was cleared of using excessive force in the 2014 shooting death of Alex Nieto.
“Fire Officer Roger Morse!” shouted Benjamin Bac Sierra, a spokesperson for the Justice for Alex Nieto Coalition, echoed by two dozen protesters who had marched up the city hall steps and congregated outside Lee’s office door.
The rally was an opportunity for the coalitions that formed in response to the shootings of Nieto and Mario Woods — who was killed in the Bayview in December 2015 — to form a unified front calling for police reform.
Morse was one of four San Francisco police officers who shot and killed Nieto at Bernal Heights Park in March 2014. They testified during a civil trial early in March that Nieto drew and aimed a taser they mistook for a pistol, and all four were cleared of using excessive force last week.
Hours after the verdict, Morse appeared to have posted a comment online that has prompted an investigation by the police department into possible wrongdoing.
“Smiling. Ugh how about burning down his house and tazing his friend who pressed charges,” the post read, an apparent reference to a District Attorney’s report indicating that Nieto once torched a book in his home and, on a different occasion, assaulted a friend with a taser.
Advocates for Nieto, however, took that comment to be a threat and have called for the officer’s firing.
“Do you know that there is a Bayview police officer who threatened Alex Nieto’s parents?” said Christopher Muhammad, a minister for the Nation of Islam and member of the Justice for Mario Woods Coalition, as he stood outside Supervisor Malia Cohen’s office.
Muhammad repeatedly called to speak to the supervisor but was greeted instead by a staff person who said he would look into the matter.
Before the chants of “Justice for Mario Woods” and “Amor for Alex Nieto” reverberated inside city hall, more than 150 protesters had rallied outside the building with large black-and-white banners bearing the faces of Woods, Nieto, and Amilcar Perez-Lopez, another police shooting victim.
The protesters congregated on the building’s exterior steps and heard speeches from activists and elected officials demanding greater movement on police reform.
“What we are here to say collectively as a community is ‘Mr. Mayor, Mr. Chief of Police, Police Commission, Board of Supervisors, we collectively deserve better than what we have,’ ” said Supervisor David Campos, who represents the Mission District.
Campos has been supportive of police reform in the wake of Woods’s death but has said it comes two years too late and should have been instituted when Nieto was shot. He said that regardless of the recent verdict on the Nieto shooting, he would still push for change.
“Notwithstanding that verdict, we are going to continue to push for police reform,” he added.
Supervisor John Avalos, who represents the Excelsior, has also said the reform should have come when Nieto was killed and echoed calls from multiple speakers for closer relationships between black and Latino communities.
“People want to think about this as a black thing, people want to think about this as a brown thing,” said Avalos. “It’s a black and it’s a brown thing, it’s working people.”
Muhammad, from the Woods coalition, criticized what he called a lack of justice from Democratic politicians in a Democratic city, saying the force used against Nieto and Woods warranted criminal charges against the officers involved.
“What could Alex Nieto have done that required 59 shots? What could Mario Woods have done that required 40 shots [from] 10 feet away?” he said. “Our position is that these officers must be fired and charged with murder.”
Smith also called for black and brown youth to come forward if they are abused by police officers and said police officers themselves should take a greater role in calling out “racism and abuse” within the department.
“We gotta let them know, we got your back. And we gotta let the police chief know that he’s gotta start telling the truth,” he said, a call that prompted chants of “Fire Chief Suhr” from the crowd.
Also speaking Friday was Nieto’s mother, Elvira Nieto, who said that despite the unfavorable verdict, she and her family had “won, because all of these people are here with us.”