Bernal Hill. Photo by Anandi Wonder

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. 

After a mural was painted over at Bernal Heights Park. Photo courtesy of Lion.

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. 

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REPORTER. Eleni is our reporter focused on policing in San Francisco. She first moved to the city on a whim nearly 10 years ago, and the Mission has become her home. Follow her on Twitter @miss_elenius.

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  1. please inform us why Sweden or Finland shouldn’t join NATO……Chomsky just might be a little out of it …..

  2. Joe,

    The link to Chomsky’s latest evaporated when I posted.

    Campers,

    Just go to You Tube and punch in, ‘Chomsky’s latest’ to get it.

    My work here is done.

    Back to retirement with my blog.

    lol

    h.

  3. We need more uncomfortable messages everywhere until people are no longer needlessly slaughtered.

  4. To Joe and Lydia,

    Yes, censorship is a terrible terrible thing.

    Such as the entire U.S. major media refusing to publish anything written by the World’s smartest man, Noam Chomsky.

    At 95 he came up with a solution to the war in Ukraine a couple of days ago.

    1. Ukraine and Swedon and Finland agree not to join NATO.

    Chomsky compares the situation in Europe to the situation of the U.S. control of Mexico.

    He says that the U.S. should agree that Mexico should not allow thousands and thousands of chinese troops to mass along the American border and have war exercises practicing to invade the United States.

    So, will you publish Chomsky?

    Will you publish a link to the Professor’s latest work and beat the New York Times to the punch?

    The future of the modern world depends upon this because if the Chomsky Solution is not implemented we will have a full-scale nuclear war and wipe out modern civilization.

    Know why?

    Cause Chomsky has been advocating for an independent Palestinian State.

    h.

  5. Joe and Lydia,

    I’ll try posting this again since the survival of modern civilization depends upon whether you continue to ban the work of Noam Chomsky …

    To Joe and Lydia,

    Yes, censorship is a terrible terrible thing.

    Such as the entire U.S. major media refusing to publish anything written by the World’s smartest man, Noam Chomsky.

    At 95 he came up with a solution to the war in Ukraine a couple of days ago.

    1. Ukraine and Swedon and Finland agree not to join NATO.

    Chomsky compares the situation in Europe to the situation of the U.S. control of Mexico.

    He says that the U.S. should agree that Mexico should not allow thousands and thousands of chinese troops to mass along the American border and have war exercises practicing to invade the United States.

    So, will you publish Chomsky?

    Will you publish a link to the Professor’s latest work and beat the New York Times to the punch?

    The future of the modern world depends upon this because if the Chomsky Solution is not implemented we will have a full-scale nuclear war and wipe out modern civilization.

    Know why?

    Cause Chomsky has been advocating for an independent Palestinian State.

    h.

    1. Hi h., long-time fan of your writing on this site and others. I have to disagree with your praise of Chomsky on this issue: one of the problems with Noam’s argument is that it completely ignores the fundamental value of democracy. The US isn’t the poster child it wishes to be in that regard, but that doesn’t mean that we as Americans cannot support a view in line with the values we want the country to espouse rather than those its government actually espouses.

      Chomsky’s plan invalidates the will of the Swedes and Finns with respect to joining NATO: the latest polling shows both their leaders and a purality of their electorates support joining the Alliance. Chomsky’s view is basically one of a benevolent dictator, not far removed in principle from those in power he most detests.

      Following up on your If the Mexican government really wishes to host a large contingent of PLA forces, that is certainly their prerogative, with, of course, the knowledge that doing so will mean not only the end of any US aid. They would not for this reason. To imply that Chomsky, even if he is the smartest man in the world, should be the white savior who ordains the future for the rest of the world, is a fallacy not worthy of your intellect.

  6. Apt or not, the only clue we have as to what the majority of city residents think about this case was the civil trial, where a jury drawn from those residents accepted the testimony of the eye witnesses and voted unanimously to dismiss the case. The jury included 3 non-whites.

    Based on that it seems fairly clear what the majority thinks.

  7. Let’s also take into account that the police had NO body cam footage when they killed Alex. It’s their word against the witnesses who actually stated that they never saw Alex pull out a taser and point it at the police. I’m sure the police tried to cover up their own dirt. Say what you want but you can NEVER justify killing a man with 40 bullets that was an execution!

  8. Rec and Park is entirely unconcerned with unpermitted projects if they support them. The fence around the Bi Rite now beer garden cafe in Civic Center Plaza violates the historical preservation commission’s requirements for design.

    Elizabeth Gordon Jonckheer assured me of this two years ago. She is no longer the right person at Planning, but neither Monica Giacomucci nor Rich Sucre, who are currently responsible for the plaza, have followed up with me after two months.

    Rec and Park refused to consider a temporary fence on Civic Center Plaza to create a safe play area for kids during the pandemic.

  9. Important details left out- That night an off-leash dog, whose owner could not control, incessantly barked at Alex while he ate his dinner on a bench. The large dog wouldn’t respond to voice command, forcing Alex up onto the bench, and yes, yelling at the dog that was aggressively after him. Yes, there was a witness who saw Alex with his hands IN HIS POCKETS while officers approached, not wielding nor directing a taser. SFPD officers supposedly “noticed” a taser and then unload four guns into Alex’s body. All officers firing off at once.

    You may disagree or have heard a different story, but make no mistake that over 40 shots were fired.
    The police then went to his house, and let in by his parents, whom they did not happen to mention to the fact that they had just killed their son, and tore apart his room and his car, desperately trying to find anything in an all out effort to try to excuse their behaviors.

    Over 40 bullet casings found.

    And no one held accountable.

    The “fact” that someone pointed out about a pulled taser trigger is convoluted as it is as likely it was triggered by the storm of bullets that hit him. Disgusting to blame Alex for such barbaric assault by the officers in question, one of which had ALREADY killed an unarmed “suspect” in SF previous. SMH

    1. Thanks for this, Ms. M. This is the version I heard, not the other ones touted above. And I’m not surprised – there are a lot of ignorant dog owners at Bernal Hill who have no control over their dogs yet let them run freely to the detriment of others. And yeah – it’s usually the expensive pure bred dogs and their wealthy owners who are the worst offenders in my experience.

      1. Ms M provided “a” version, certainly. However it is not the version that was considered by the DA, when he decided there was no criminal case to pursue. Nor was it the version considered by the civil trial, which unanimously exonerated the police and effectively held Nieto 100% to blame for his own demise, by using his weapon to intimidate and scare others who were merely seeking to enjoy a pleasant time in the park.

        Ms M no doubt has some personal reason to believe a version that is not supported by the evidence in the court documents. But that tells us more about her than it does about why Nieto behaved in a manner that virtually ensured a fatal outcome.

        1. Go ahead and excuse 40+ bullets fired off by the 4 officers into Alex Nieto’s body Tom? It’s disgusting and unbelievable and…

          You haven’t addressed it at ALL.

          SFPD has had many cases of police literally getting away with murder because no one has ever prosecuted. My neighbor watched Luis Pat Gongorra shot by an office as he sat on the ground. In fact that was caught on security cameras across the street.

          1. If you knew anything about standard police procedure you would know that, if a deadly threat is perceived, then you keep firing until the threat is neutralized. There have been cases of an attacker being shot up to a dozen times and they keep going with the attack.

            As I recall from the trial at least 7 eye witnesses saw Nieto’s weapon. Clearly he was showing it and/or brandishing it. That would always be perceived as a threat by police, which is why the jury found no merit to the civil case against the city.

            You can elect to believe whatever reinforces your own personal biases. but the court transcript and sworn testimony of the eye witnesses do not lie.

        2. A “virtual picket” line? An “editorial”? The reporter wrote about what happened and the reaction. I suspect you are new to the neighborhood. Have you read the court documents you refer to? Have you read the numerous reports in ML on the killing at the time? Have you read the eye-witness testimony? Or is it enough to say the DA gave the cops a pass, like before Boudin, every single time they gave the cops’ policy of “shoot first ask questions later” a pass. That policy has been changed, but the practice remains as the Stangel case showed. The devil is in the details, not in your impression that everyone in the City shares your opinion.

        3. I won’t ever forgive SFPD for the way they treated Alex’s parents. They didn’t have the decency to inform them that their son was dead when they clearly were worried about him being missing. Instead they tried to talk the parents into letting them search Alex’s room to prove—after-the-fact—that Alex was to blame for his death. It’s reprehensible, abhorrent, shameful, and SFPD has never answered for it.

          Personally, I see it as an admission of guilt. The only people who really know whether Alex was brandishing his taser when the officers approached him are the officers. There is no video, no witnesses, and Alex is dead, so we don’t get to hear from him. But the officer’s subsequent actions speak volumes. They are not the actions of people who were placed in a tragic situation that resulted in somebody dying. They are the actions of people who did something terribly wrong and knew it deep in their hearts, and desperately wanted to keep everybody else from knowing too. Their damaged souls made them incapable of empathy for Alex’s parents.

  10. Put it to a vote.
    If the community and the people want the writing on the paths, so be it.
    If they don’t, so be it too.

    1. So if a majority in Alabama want to reintroduce Jim Crow laws, then that is OK with you?

      In this country we do not just mindlessly do what a majority wants, and certainly not what one individual thinks that a majority should want.

  11. Maybe if it were a mural, it wouldn’t have been painted over. Murals are pieces of art that are generally on a wall or ceiling. I guess you could argue the ground is like a wall, but words are not a mural. No dictionary defines a mural as “words”. Especially block letters.

    Truth and Accuracy are tenants of professional journalism. The journalist should use words properly(by dictionary definition), or put quotes around words that are being used in a different way than how they are defined in Webster’s or Merriam.

    1. Yes, the article is clearly an editorial rather than factual reporting. Because no journalist concerned with the truth would omit crucial elements of the story such as that Nieto was waving his weapon around to threaten others, that he pointed it at police, and that it was later shown that his weapon had been discharged.

      Should articles here be clearly marked as to whether they are factual reports or editorial propaganda?

  12. San Francisco is pushing so hard to displace Black and Brown folks by erasing who they were while the community comes together to honor who they were. Alex was murdered by the SFPD while he ate a burrito. The memorial of Alex Nieto needs to be RESTORED and maintained. We demand funds to be provided as restitution for loss of funds

    1. He actually pointed a taser at the police. And he did this before pointing a taser at someone else. I’m not justifying the actions of the SFPD, but had he not pointed a taser at the police we wouldn’t even be here commenting on this. The entire community failed Alex Nieto. Why was a man with mental health issues carrying a taser? Why weren’t there any mental health services available that he and his family could have utilized? Why weren’t the police properly trained in de-escalation, among other things?

      Everyday SF citizens are not pushing hard to displace anyone. It’s greedy real estate developers and institutional investors aided by their cronies in city hall that are the cause of displacement, which is more about class and economic status than it is about race or ethnicity.

  13. The amount of white people blaming Alex Nieto for his own murder going so far as to say “well, he’s had mental health issues before, so…” is truly a sad commentary of the current state of gentrified SF. Even worse, All these people who’re apoplectic about neighborhood public art that in any way makes a political statement critical of racism… in San Francisco, is indicative of the lack of self-awareness and frankly depraved racism present in Bernal Heights ESPECIALLY on it’s NextDoor members.

  14. In reality the future is white. The past is black. But in delusional San Francisco, reality takes second place to toxic ideology.

  15. “The Future Is Black” to be replaced by Nextdoor QR code with less-blocky caption “(Don’t) Stop Snitchin'”

    Bernalwood killed Alex Nieto.

  16. Alex had long standing mental health issues. His own family called the police on him at his house. Alex tried to set the family sofa on fire and was eating a bar of soap. The day he died he acted out towards a man with a dog. Pulled his weapon (taser), pointed it at the man and yelled. The dog handler was scared and believed the weapon was a gun. The police were called. Alex continued to escalate the situation. He poured his weapon at officers who also believed it was a gun and they fired. #truth

  17. Wow – surprised at the biased reporting here, specifically using Doggtown Dro’s account of Nieto’s demise vs what was established at the trial. I for one prefer public spaces free of activists’ messages, regardless of said activists’ take on the world.

  18. “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. ”

    Omitting two very relevant facts. The first being that Nieto had brandished the taser at a woman and her dog shortly beforehand. Second that in the civil trial, which unanimously cleared the officers of all wrongdoing, it was revealed that Nieto’s taser clock showed that the weapon’s trigger had been pulled.

    So a little more than just quietly sitting eating a burrito. And why would Nieto think it was smart to point his taser at armed cops as they approached?

    1. Imagine a man is shot at over 40 times.

      To “neutralize” the “threat”.

      The officers in this case enjoyed some kind of blood sport. It’s sick. Disturbing these people were allowed to continue policing.

  19. This mural needs to be RESTORED along with the funds. Just blatant disrespect San Francisco should be ashamed. Stop trying to make gentrifiers comfortable. Justice for Alex Nieto!!

  20. Reminds me of the same vile racism and erasure of our Black allies that the Redistricting TF members (hint: noone who walked out in protest to stop the KKK barf map) attempted to pull off. Certain TF members stopping their ears to majority public comment (watch the videoed sessions—it’s all there for any 5 year old to tally). Uturn 3AM votes after unsanctioned breaks and gab sessions. TF’s failure to call for public comment before any votes in recent sessions. Complete erasure of majority public comment from our diverse majority of San Franciscans. We need the Community Unity Map. Now!!! +83 local grass roots organizations put in the sweat equity to create it. Breed, real estate speculators and market rate developers don’t want it but majority SF does.

    1. Because our only two choices must be the senior partners in corruption or the junior partners in corruption who our tax dollars fund to run popular politics into the ground. There are no other options.

  21. Well, on the one hand, I’m glad to see them gone. The first one had annoyed me since it was first painted in huge blocky letters on the roadway. It nagged at me every time I walked over it like the effect of a strobe light… But, I am sorry they have been painted over, as it will only cause distress and, sure enough, they will be back anyway. And, because of this, they will soon be enshrined as permanent features (like “the rock”), whereas, if left alone, they would probably have eventually worn away.

      1. I cannot speak for Stephen, but I too would be irked to see political statements and ideological protests etched onto a public place of recreation. I should be able to enjoy the parks of this city without being subjected to a virtual picket line. Nor should the right to free speech include adorning taxpayer-funded property with hectoring, polarised and provocative viewpoints.

        The community has already spoken on this issue, when 12 members of the city community voted unanimously to reject the civil suit against the city. So why should that same city and community allow this misuse of public property?

    1. I think the point of painting those messages in a neighborhood like Bernal was meant to play on people’s nerves. While I am not a fan of the signs, I think I can understand the message.

  22. When did signs started becoming murals? I’m guessing when the correct verbiage fails to generate the desired level of outrage.