As many as 20 supporters of Amilcar Perez-Lopez gathered Monday night to witness the unveiling of a mural in his likeness at the northwest corner of 24th and Capp Streets.
The day marked the four-and-a-half-year anniversary of the night that 20-year-old Perez-Lopez, an immigrant from Guatemala, was killed by the San Francisco Police Department.
On Feb. 26, 2015, plainclothes Officers Craig Tiffe and Eric Reboli responded to reports of a bicycle theft near 24th and Folsom Streets around 9:45 p.m.
The officers encountered Perez-Lopez, whom they said was trying to steal a bicycle from another man. Lopez allegedly lunged at Tiffe and Reboli; the officers shot at him from behind multiple times, striking him in the back. Perez-Lopez died at the scene.
The District Attorney George Gascon declined to press charges against Tiffe and Reboli. The city settled last year with Perez-Lopez’s family for $275,000.
His case became one of many uncharged shootings that year and, like the others, Perez-Lopez’s death left the Mission community frustrated and in disbelief. Community leaders decided to keep his memory alive through the mural.
The unfinished mural is located on the top portion of the Calle 24 Cultural Latino District building. Led by Carla Elana Wojczuk, a team of muralists has finished the outline of the sprawling mural and will resume working once scaffolding goes up on Sept. 3.
The muralists include Wojczuk, Lucia Gonzalez Ippolito, Adrianna Adams, Anna Lisa Escobedo, Flavia Elisa Mora, Cristian Muñoz, and Pancho Pescador.
Besides Perez-Lopez, Wojczuk said the mural team included the images of other SFPD shooting victims, such as Mario Woods, who was killed on Dec. 2, 2015; Alex Nieto, who was killed on March 21, 2014; and Jesus Adolfo Delgado Duarte, who was killed on March 6, 2018.
The muralists have also decided to include the images of Oscar Alberto Martinez Ramirez and his daughter Valeria, undocumented immigrants from El Salvador who drowned in the Rio Grande River earlier this summer while trying to cross into the United States.
They also included an image of Claudia Gomez, a Guatemalan immigrant who was killed by a Border Patrol Agent.
“It’s set on an altar so it’s really a combination of honoring [the victims] and a call for justice,” Wojczuk said.
The mural is a collaborative project between the Justice4Amilcar Coalition, HOMEY, Mission Housing Development Corp, and the Calle24 Latino Cultural District. The Mural project began two years ago and has brought in $25,000 in donations.
Executive Director of nonprofit organization HOMEY, Roberto Alfaro, opened the unveiling by performing a blessing ceremony.
Holding an incensario (incense burner) in his hands, Alfaro lit the copal— a tree sap— inside and spread the smoke around the crowd. He then walked around the building and blessed every corner.
“We want to start in a good way and we want to start with all of you and the small community of folks,” Alfaro said.
Alfaro then called up Father Richard Smith, the vicar of the Episcopal Church of St. John the Evangelist on 15th and Julian Streets, and also a member of the Justice4Amilcar Foundation to speak to the intimate-sized crowd. “Even though the legal system has failed us, we can’t let the memory die,” he said.
The retired priest met Perez-Lopez’s parents a few years back when they were visiting San Francisco to speak with lawyers. When Smith told Perez-Lopez’s mother they were planning to erect a mural of her son in the Mission, she was elated.
“As soon as I said that, this small and very shy person, all of a sudden out of her emerges wonder woman—and she said, “’yeah!’”
The priest then read aloud a few words from Perez-Lopez’s brother, Marvin. “We send you greetings from Guatemala. The Perez-Lopez family is giving thanks for all that you have done on the memorial for my brother Amilcar,” Marvin said via Richard. “We send you a big hug from our beautiful land of Guatemala.”
Perez-Lopez left Guatemala when he was 17 years old to work and earn money he could send back to his family, who live in a poor town. Smith said he made a $300 a month working in the city but sent but “Eventually he was able to send enough money for clean, safe running water in their [his parents] house.”
Muralist Wojczuk said Perez-Lopez’s dedication to working for his family’s sake is represented in the mural. “His image is set up in a retablo [devotional painting] so decorated around the retablo are the acts of love he gave to his family,” Wojczuk said.
Smith reiterated his hope that the mural will keep the memory of what Perez-Lopez was working towards alive. “We cannot let the story of Amilcar be forgotten.”
The tentative date for the opening ceremony is Nov. 2. Community members are encouraged by the organizations leading the mural project to continue donating.