Today could have been different for the Nietos. They thought their son Alex Nieto would have a permanent memorial in Bernal Heights by the time Día de los Muertos came. They envisioned leading the annual procession of mourners from the memorial to Garfield Park, where he and other victims of police violence would be honored at public altars.
“We want a memorial where our son was killed because it is a tradition in our country that we need to remember the dead,” Refugio Nieto said while observing dancers from the local art collective Loco Bloco on the corner of 24th and Bryant.
“It’s a sacred day for all Mexicans. We would have liked the monument to be ready now,” he continued. “But since it’s not there yet, we march from here.”
Refugio and his wife, Elvira, wore black and white t-shirts with the words “Justice for Alex Nieto” above their son’s image, a somber reminder the celebration is about more than fun, flowers and face paint.
Alex Nieto, a 28-year-old security guard was shot and killed by four police officers in March 2014. The officers fired 59 shots and he suffered 14 or 15 gunshot wounds. In court, the officers stated they feared for their lives, mistaking Nieto’s taser for a handgun. Earlier this year, a predominantly white federal jury decided the officers had not used excessive force.
San Francisco’s Latino community and its supporters see this as a great and obvious injustice. In their fight for recognition of the tragedy of Alex’s death, the Nietos asked the city for a permanent memorial. In September, Supervisors John Avalos and David Campos responded and yesterday Avalos introduced an ordinance about a permanent memorial. In a written response to Mission Local, Avalos said he expects the item to return to the Board of Supervisors for a vote within a month.
The Nietos visit a temporary memorial in Bernal Heights every day. It has been vandalized several times, but it also receives a very special kind of support from many neighbors who throw pebbles on it as a sign of respect and remembrance as they pass.
At this point, it is unclear what form the new, permanent memorial would take. Previously, the Nietos and their supporters have spoken of a bench or a plaque, but now Elvira says that a simple bench would not suffice.
“I think it would be better to have an image of Alex that explains everything that happened on this location,” she said. “That 59 bullets were fired, so that people know what actually happened there.”
The ordinance will be discussed at a community meeting on Monday, Nov. 28, from 6 to 8 p.m. The Nietos are certain that the strong community support will have the supervisors voting in their favor.
Refugio were joined Wednesday night on a makeshift stage by dancing neighbors and visitors. Despite the lack of a permanent memorial, Nieto said he felt relaxed and content.
“I thought we would not be able to do it, but now it seems that we will, even if it will be the last thing we accomplish,” he said. “We cannot lose, it is this great faith we have, to show them that if united, the community can.”