On a walk in the park last week, one resident noticed an unusual sight: Park workers painting a section of the Bernal Heights Park walking path.
Upon closer inspection, the employees from San Francisco’s Recreation and Parks department were covering up two massive murals on the paved path that runs through the scenic views from Bernal Hill. The murals served as reminders of racism and police brutality.
One, reading “The Future is Black,” was painted during the Black Lives Matter protests that swept the nation in mid-2020.
The other was a tribute to Alex Nieto, the 28-year-old Bernal Heights resident who was shot to death in a barrage of bullets from four San Francisco Police Department officers in 2014. The Nieto memorial was painted just weeks ago, around the time of the eight-year anniversary of his death, March 21.
“Covering this mural represents the continued erasure of Brown people in the Bernal, but also SF as whole,” said activist DoggTown Dro in a statement to Mission Local. “We’re murdered, incarcerated, and aggressively displaced by over policing, economic exclusion, and gentrification. They erased his life and then erased his name.”
Without murals like the one of Nieto’s name to serve as a reminder, DoggTown Dro said similar “mistakes” like the one that led to Nieto’s death would continue to repeat themselves. Nieto was eating a burrito in the park when a resident called the police on him, mistaking his Taser, which he carried for his job as a bouncer, for a handgun.
“I get why people wouldn’t want to remember, but it is our duty to say their names, paint their names on the street, do what we can to make sure this shit never happens again,” said one resident who asked to be identified as Lion.
Lion said he walks the paths of Bernal Heights Park daily with his dog, and witnessed the murals being painted over. “Seeing this erased hurt my heart when they did it, and now I have to walk across their cover-up every day.”
Rec and Park, in a statement to Mission Local, confirmed it removed both “unsanctioned messages” on April 6, citing increased graffiti.
“Memorials, murals and artwork have all found homes in our parks by going through the appropriate channels,” the department’s statement to Mission Local read.
The Nieto family has a sanctioned memorial with rocks, flowers, and photographs at the park that remains intact, and the department said it is working with the family to plan a permanent memorial in the park.
This isn’t the first activist mural to be removed in Bernal Heights. You might remember the Black Lives Matter rock atop the same hill that reportedly had to be repainted six times after one “Spraypaint Sally” kept painting over it.
To the outrage of the community, one of the times, the Department of Public Works painted over the rock, and the Chronicle reported that the then-acting director of the department issued an apology, promising not to erase art from the boulder again.
Rec and Park, meanwhile, doesn’t seem apologetic, and apparently sees the road murals, including the one it left untouched for nearly two years, as unauthorized graffiti. The department did not respond to the question of why the mural was suddenly removed.
“Graffiti in our parks has skyrocketed during the pandemic,” the department’s statement continued. “In the three and a half months of 2022, we have abated 44 separate incidences of graffiti in Bernal Heights Park alone.” The department said that in 2019, it counted 50 such instances.