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As an ordinance requiring a memorial to police shooting victim Alex Nieto makes its way through the legislative process, some 100 residents who support it met Monday night to discuss what the monument should look like.
Supervisors John Avalos and David Campos have put forward legislation instructing the Recreation and Parks Department to install a memorial to Nieto in Bernal Heights Park. Nieto was killed by police officers in a March 21, 2014 confrontation at the park after allegedly pointing his Taser at officers.
The details of the incident are disputed despite a lengthy civil trial, in which a jury ruled the officers did not use excessive force.
“There’s been a lot of debate about what happened and what didn’t happen,” Campos said at the meeting. “Clearly we had a very serious event that took place and took the life of someone who has been a part of the Bernal Heights community.”
Avalos said he first approached the parks department about creating a memorial in 2014 and was rejected. Under a city ordinance, the department would have to agree to the memorial, both supervisors said.
The ordinance requiring the monument will go to a committee of the Board of Supervisors on Thursday and be considered by the full Board of Supervisors for the first time on Tuesday.
The supervisors and proponents met at the Bernal Heights Neighborhood Center Tuesday to discuss the specifics of the memorial – whether it should be a plaque or bust, bench or sculpture. Archbishop F.W. King of the Saint John Coltrane Church suggested advocates also push for the park to be renamed after Nieto, but that appeared unlikely.
“We want this memorial to be not just for us, but for the community,” said Elvira Nieto, Alex Nieto’s mother.
A consensus on what form the memorial would take has not yet been reached, but several offers to help realize it were made.
Beth Stephens, a professor at the University of California at Santa Cruz, offered up the university’s foundry, the only one in the UC system, to do the bronze casting. Her offer was met with tumultuous applause.
Still, the monument and its approval will cost some money and it’s not entirely clear where that will come from.
“Wouldn’t it be proper to ask the city to fund the project, given the impact of these deaths?” asked organizer Frank Martin del Campo.
Luis Poot Pat, whose cousin Luis Gongora Pat was also killed by police officers in April of this year, wanted to hold officers specifically responsible financially.
“Is there some law, a way you can make police pay for the damage?” he asked Campos. “They killed my cousin in less than 30 seconds and now I have to pay the resulting costs.”
The supervisors agreed to see if the city might consider footing part of the bill for the memorial, but those who want to realize it will likely need to raise at least part of the funding themselves. That prospect that did not faze Maria Cristina Gutierrez, one of the hunger strikers later known as the “Frisco Five” who fasted in front of Mission Police Station for 17 days to unseat then-police-chief Greg Suhr.
“I’m not gonna beg for one penny. We’re going to raise the money ourselves,” she said. “The city would find a way to say they cannot do it. A memorial means recognition from the city that they murdered an innocent man.”
Rebecca Ruiz-Sunwoo, an organizer with the Idriss Stelley Foundation, told the group to “dream big.” She recalled a memorial plaque for police shooting victim O’Shaine Evans, which supporters procured and installed without bothering with city approval. That approach goes hand in hand with an insistence on complete restructuring of the police department.
“We don’t want better experiences with police, we want less,” Ruiz-Sunwoo said.
Several others demanded more action from the city on a major overhaul of the department.
“I don’t want anyone talking about reform, I want to talk about transforming the police department,” King said. “What is a new chief? What’s the difference between pig, bacon and ham? It’s all swine.”
But for the Nietos, since the conclusion of the civil trial that did not go their way, a tangible, permanent memorial at the park would be a welcome step. Refugio Nieto, Alex Nieto’s father, recalled joining his son on a late-night visit to the park. As they sat on the bench, Nieto said, his son told him how he never felt safer anywhere else in the city.
“We know we will be able to do this, with the help of the community, with the help of all those who have supported us,” he said. “That’s all we’re asking of you.”