The demands of Alex Nieto’s parents for a permanent memorial at the site of their son’s killing by San Francisco police in Bernal Heights Park drew a large number of supporters and multiple speakers to the steps of San Francisco’s City Hall on Tuesday afternoon. During the event, Supervisors John Avalos and David Campos said they would sponsor a resolution on the matter.
Addressing the crowd in Spanish, Nieto’s parents, Refugio and Elvira Nieto, said they hoped for a bench and a plaque that might say: “Here is where he fell.” They would like a memorial that could not be vandalized as their homemade memorial altar at the park frequently is. However, permanence isn’t the only attribute of the memorial Nieto’s community seeks, as Justice 4 Mario Woods Coalition’s Cristina Gutierrez stated in her speech.
“The bench means the recognition of the city that this innocent man was murdered by the police,” said Gutierrez.
Maria Villalta of the Justice & Love for Alex Nieto Coalition, called for the memorial to be a “restoration of all the trauma SFPD has caused the brown and black communities,” adding that the City and County of San Francisco should pay for the memorial “as it paid for the bullets that killed Alex.”
Nieto, who was a 28-year-old security guard, was shot and killed by four officers on March 21, 2014. The officers fired 59 shots, later stating in court that they had feared for their lives as they had mistaken Nieto’s taser for a gun. He suffered 14 or 15 gunshot wounds from at least 10 bullets.
In 2015 the district attorney decided against filing charges and earlier this year a predominantly white federal jury found, in a civil suit, that the officers had not used excessive force.
Speaking from the steps of City Hall, Roberto Hernandez with Our Mission No Eviction, drew connections between Nieto’s killing and gentrification, pointing out that the person who reported him to the police that night was a white newcomer in San Francisco. He said it was clear that the city’s administration and elected officials were “plotting and planning” with corporate America to get rid of people of color.
“These murders by the police department are a part of that, connect the dots,” he said, likening the fear instilled by such actions to Donald Trump’s claims about a wall between Mexico and the U.S. “It’s another form of racism.”
Avalos said he and Campos would have a resolution written and introduced to the board in two weeks. He warned, however, that the resolution would only be the first step as more work would have to be done with in different city departments.
Many of those present spoke of how the judicial process had failed Nieto and for some it added insult to injury that getting something as simple as a bench in his name could prove complicated.
One of the final speakers, Archbishop Franzo W. King of St. John Coltrane African Orthodox Church, emphasized that above anything else police officers that commit unlawful killings need to be “charged and sent to prison.” In terms of the memorial, he called for more.
“I want the whole mountain. I want that whole hill dedicated to your son,” he said, turning to Nieto’s parents, referencing the hilltop where he was killed. “They can walk off with a bench but they can’t walk off with that mountain.”