Memorial for Nieto underway

By Cassie Ordonio

Refugio and Elvira Nieto called upon the Board of Supervisors, specifically John Avalos and David Campos, on Sept. 13 to have a permanent memorial for their son Alex Nieto, a City College student who was shot and killed in Bernal Heights by four police officers on March 21, 2014.

“I come before you with a great sorrow,” Elvira said. “It’s been over two years and nothing has been achieved for our son. Not a resolution has been granted to tell us that we can honor him in some way—that we could have a little place for him.”

A permanent altar or bench are among the potential memorial considerations.

Approximately seven community organizers, including members of Justice 4 Mario Woods and Maria Christina Gutierrez from the Frisco 5 hunger strikers, joined the Nieto family outside City Hall awaiting the Supervisors’ decision.

Demonstrators join indigenous dancers in front of San Francisco's City Hall in support of a memorial resolution for Alex Nieto on September 13, 2016. (Photo by Cassie Ordonio/ The Guardsman
Demonstrators join indigenous dancers in front of San Francisco’s City Hall in support of a memorial resolution for Alex Nieto on September 13, 2016. (Photo by Cassie Ordonio/ The Guardsman

The Decision

Following the Nieto family, Supervisor Avalos took the stand alongside Supervisor Campos to voice their support of a memorial.

“You have my commitment,” Avalos said. “We will draft a resolution.”

The crowd applauded as Avalos held his hand up to quiet the crowd so he could further explain how a permanent memorial would not happen overnight.

Though Avalos and Campos fully support the memorial, it will take approximately two weeks to draft the resolution. It will then be presented to the rest of the Board of Supervisors.

“The making of this memorial is not sufficient, but it is necessary,” Campos said. “We cannot change the unfortunate decisions that have been made by the DA by this court, but for us to move collectively together, we have to recognize something tragic happened here.”

In Memory

To preserve the memory of Alex Nieto, the family and the community join together on the 21st of every month at the site of his killing to offer gifts. An altar-like figure with a banner, flowers and a cross with Alex’s photo were placed in Bernal Heights Park.

However, the site was vandalized approximately 10 times during the past two years. Recently, the banner was stolen.  

Refugio and Elvira Nieto stan outside San Francisco's City Hall on September 13, 2016 in hopes of a permanent memorial for their son, Alex. (Photo by Cassie Ordonio/ The Guardsman)
Refugio and Elvira Nieto stan outside San Francisco’s City Hall on September 13, 2016 in hopes of a permanent memorial for their son, Alex. (Photo by Cassie Ordonio/ The Guardsman)

“I find it sad and cruel, and I have to see it when I go there to find it first,” Refugio said. “But then others come by, and they help me replace the items only to see them once again be taken away.”

City College professor Benjamin Bac Sierra’s film “Lowrider Lawyers: Putting a City on Trial” premiered in the Bernal Heights Outdoor Cinema’s 13th Annual Film Festival on Sept. 9.

This was the first time the film was shown in the Bernal Heights neighborhood, where Alex Nieto grew up.

Premiering the second day of the festival, the 38-minute film reenacted scenes from Nieto’s death to the 10-day civil trial.

“It tells a pretty complex story. It brings a story that’s really close to the community,” film festival host Joseph Smooke said. “The fact that they were able to get stories within the community makes you think about the issue differently.”

The Trial

It took two years for the case to be called to trial. The 10-day civil trial began on March 1, 2016 with a predominantly white jury and no Latinos or African-Americans.

The jury found the four police officers to be innocent.

“The first gets it worst,” said Adante Pointer, the Nieto’s family attorney. “What’s to justify was no more than a cold-blooded murder. Fifty-nine bullets and somehow that jury ignored the evidence.”

Activism

The death of Alex Nieto has sparked awareness of police killings within the Latino and African-American communities.

“Through his martyrdom, he placed this issue in a position that no one could ignore,” Pointer said. “We had the marches, we had the rallies, we had the support up front and visibility to where you could not turn on the TV in the morning and just wonder about what the weather was going to be.”

Refugio asked Gutierrez to attend the rally for the memorial resolution and Gutierrez held the microphone as the crowd cheered her on.

“The police is out of hand,” Gutierrez said. “We want that bench because that bench is a recognition that this innocent man was murdered by the police in this city. I want to say that to me there’s no justice.”

The Nieto family may finally have a public symbol to represent and recognize their son.