People demand justice for Alejandro Nieto
The San Francisco’s Mission District community was shocked and angered by the news of the killing of Alejandro (Alex) Nieto by the San Francisco police on March 21. Nieto, just 28 years old, had stopped on his way to his security guard job to enjoy his favorite spot at the top of the hill in Bernal Heights, his old neighborhood. He was wearing a holstered taser gun, one of the tools of his profession.
Apparently, as a Latino youth, Nieto looked out of place to some of the new neighbors in gentrified Bernal Heights. Someone made a 911 call complaining of a man acting erratically. The police responded with their usual shoot-first-ask-questions-later tactic: three San Francisco Police Department officers surrounded Nieto and shot 14 bullets into his body.
At a town hall meeting March 25 called by the police at an elementary school in the neighborhood, SFPD Chief Greg Suhr had difficulty being heard above the shouts from the hundreds of angry and grieving community members who had come to get answers about why Nieto’s life was cut so short by police violence.
Suhr stated that the officers were about 75 feet away from Nieto when they shot him, leaving everyone to question the police claim that the three cops had feared for their lives.
Nieto’s stun gun, which had the required broad, bright yellow striping, was displayed on a board next to a real gun. Suhr claimed his officers gave Nieto a verbal command to put his hands up, and confirmed that they had not used any kind of loudspeaker.
More than 50 people lined up to speak, questioning the police scenario and demanding real answers. A woman talked about how she was scared for her 13-year-old son with autism, wondering if he would one day be murdered by police over someone’s claim that he was acting erratically, and asking why police always shoot to kill.
Ingrid Deleon of Poor Magazine pointed out that “the weapon [a taser] has yellow markings, how could they have been confused?” She stated: “For a person of color, there is never any justice. How can you take someone’s life like they’re a cockroach?”
A proposal was made that evening for a march to follow a meeting on gentrification scheduled for the Mission Cultural Center for Latino Arts on March 29. People felt the gentrification issue was so closely tied to this police killing that the crowd cheered their approval.
Following a packed, March 29 meeting at the Mission Cultural Center on Mission Street near 25th Street, the march for Justice for Alex Nieto started, right in front of the Center. By the time people began moving down 24th Street, the crowd had swelled to about 1,000. Marchers, predominantly people of color from the community, including many of Nieto’s friends and family, continued across 24th and then onto Folsom Street and up the hill to the peak at Bernal Heights Park, where Nieto was killed.
A moving ceremony was held there, with Azteca dancers and other Indigenous peoples’ songs and prayers. Nieto’s father shook hands with a huge procession of people, who, one by one, filed by to offer him their condolences.