San Francisco Supervisors Approve Memorial for Alex Nieto, Shot by SFPD

Traduccion en español aquí.

The Board of Supervisors on Tuesday approved 9-1 an ordinance directing the Recreation and Parks department to install a memorial to police shooting victim Alex Nieto at Bernal Heights Park.

Supporters of the memorial, friends of Nieto’s parents and advocates who have mobilized around his and other police shootings, burst into cheers at the vote, with advocate and community leader Benjamin Bac Sierra shouting that students from local schools would visit the memorial for years to come.

“We are very happy,” said Elvira Nieto, Alex Nieto’s mother, after the hearing. “They supported us with nine votes, that’s more than enough.”

Indeed, the memorial ordinance won sufficient support to withstand a mayoral veto.

Several longtime supporters of the family who have been active in the effort were moved to tears, though smiles abounded among the group that had gathered to await the vote.

Before the decision, Supervisor Mark Farrell’s sole dissent to the ordinance sparked a discussion among the supervisors over whether a memorial to Nieto would overshadow any respect due to police officers.

“I cannot support this ordinance today because of the message it’s sending to the men and women of our police department…We don’t recognize the police officers that have been killed or injured in the line of duty,” he said, after saying that he was sorry for the community, especially Neito’s parents.

Supporters of the memorial booed and hissed at his vote and London Breed called for silence numerous times to allow him to speak.

Other supervisors differed sharply with Farrell.

“What’s scary and unfortunate is that we cannot honor a loss of life, period,” said Supervisor Malia Cohen. “The reality is, if law enforcement or anyone wants to be recognized, all they have to do is ask, the same way that the community has asked.”

Supervisor Aaron Peskin called the Farrell’s implied dichotomy the “root of the problem.”

“These are not mutually exclusive things. When we get in this dynamic that we cannot honor a citizen of San Francisco who was tragically killed in a hail of bullets, that plays into this whole mentality that is at the root of the problem,” Peskin said. “If The POA knows that we take the loss of life of one of our citizens as seriously as we take the loss of life of one of our officers, that sends a powerful message.”

Peskin and Supervisor David Campos both referred to the police union, the Police Officers Association, a group that has been vocally critical of the Board for approving a memorial day for another police shooting victim, Mario Woods.

“The argument about supporting or remembering someone being disrespectful to the police…is an argument that was made in the case of a day for Mario Woods. We heard that precisely from the POA. At that time we responded by saying we disagree,” Campos said. “We specifically rejected that false choice.”

He said he would tell the officers association, “You don’t serve your members well when you try to make that false choice.”

The exact form the memorial will take has yet to be decided, but Bac Sierra, a close friend of Nieto’s and a vocal activist said some words had already been chosen for the the inscription: “Against the violence and injustice of 59 bullets family and community rose to defend honor and promote positive spirit. Amor for Alex Nieto.” 

Community groups will need to raise the money for the monument, which could influence what shape it takes, though a professor at the University of California at Santa Cruz said at a meeting discussing the memorial in November that she would provide low-cost bronze casting.

Before anything can be installed, the memorial must also be approved by the Arts Commission.

The board’s approval Tuesday is a victory in a long string of disappointments for the family – The District Attorney decided in February 2013 that four officers who shot Nieto did not commit any crime in doing so, and in March a civil jury also ruled that the officers did not use excessive force in the incident. However, the Office of Citizen Complaints has sustained a complaint against one of the officers involved in the shooting for making Facebook comments about Nieto after that trial concluded.

Refugio Nieto, Alex Nieto's father, being interviewed after the meeting. Photo by Laura Wenus

Refugio Nieto, Alex Nieto’s father, being interviewed after the meeting. Photo by Laura Wenus

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