Alex Nieto Protest March Climbs Folsom to Bernal Hill

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Last Saturday afternoon, just as the rain began to fall, I heard the roar of a crowd approaching North Bernal from the Mission. A few minutes later, I ran up Precita to Folom Street, just in time to see a large group of demonstrators protesting the death of Bernal neighbor Alex Nieto, accompanied by sizable contingent of SFPD personnel in riot-control equipment.

The group had assembled and marched from the Mission Cultural Center, and it included many of the standard trappings of a Mission District street protest. Several of the protestors carried signs claiming affiliation with the Bay Area arm of ANSWER, the amorphous coalition of anti-imperialist, anti-racism activists. Others carried signs in English and Spanish decying “SFPD Enforced Gentrification.” Several of the faces in the crowd were familiar to anyone who attended last week’s community meeting about the Nieto shooting at Leonard Flynn School.

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The crowd was large as it crossed Cesar Chavez, but the combined effects of the fearsome Folsom Street hill and the increasing downpour meant that by the time the protest reached the spot on the north side of Bernal Hill where Neighbor Alex Nieto was slain, the size of the protest group was somewhat diminished.

Which was perhaps a good thing.

Neighbor Alex’s death is an unspeakable tragedy, and Bernal Heights awaits a definitive report on the circumstances surrounding the officer-involved shooting that took his life. Justice must be pursued.

In the meantime, it has become clear that a great many people — and a great many on all sides of this terrible incident who are not from Bernal Heights — are eager to interpret Nieto’s death through the prisms of their longstanding agendas. That is quite understandable; if if not necessarily compatible with a proper inquiry into the facts surrounding Neighbor Alex’s death.

Yet more than anything else, a proper inquiry and credible answers are what Neighbor Alex, and his family, and Bernal Heights deserve.

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71 Responses to Alex Nieto Protest March Climbs Folsom to Bernal Hill

  1. peter rothblatt says:

    It’s also possible that this was a tragic and thoroughly avoidable killing of a neighbor and people are simply saddened and outraged about something that seems to happen all too frequently in our city/region/country, that is the police applying excessive use of force/violence to “stop violence.”

    • Cosovian says:

      This is the agenda prism Todd was talking about. Based on the publicly available evidence, it’s not clear to me at all that this was a “thoroughly avoidable” killing. In fact, far from condemning the cops, the evidence we do have seems to exonerate them.

  2. M Ro says:

    Super sad for Alex and the police who shot him. Best advice for folks is please don’t carry items that look like guns in a park. Please don’t pull out items that resemble guns if the cops are walking toward you.

    • #freebasingfearonthehill says:

      he needed it for work. He was on his way to work eating dinner……

      • Rusty H says:

        The lesson from this: off-duty security guards should be careful about carrying weapons, especially ones that look like firearms. If you are carrying them openly, you should do so when you are wearing the appropriate uniform (or at a minimum something that indicates you’re a security guard).

        He worked as a security guard at El Toro nightclub on San Bruno ave in Silver Terrace. He lived at 445 Cortland, which is on the way to the nightclub from Bernal Hill. Also, he was wearing a red jacket, not a security guard uniform. We will never know why he brought the taser with him to go to eat, when it was not out of the way to go by his home again on his way to work. Did he work security in street clothes?

        We don’t have all the information. Some things don’t make sense.

  3. S says:

    well put! People are selfishly co-opting this tragedy simply to further their own political agendas…very sad.

    • BJ says:

      Not so, I have been a resident in Bernal for 25yrs and know the protesters. The reporter should check facts. There are a lot of Latino families in this neighborhood, there were also friends of Alex. Get to know your neighbors people.

  4. La Colombianita says:

    How do you know many of these people are not from Bernal Heights?

    I am and so are many that attended the protest.

    Just like you’d like them to check facts about what happened to poor Alex (and not “blame it on their longstanding agendas”) you should probably check yours before writing statements like that.

    ***Justice For Alex Nieto!!!***

  5. Beth says:

    I think the best point made is don’t carry or display a stun gun or anything else that looks like a gun!! The neighbors who saw him all thought it was a weapon also. Tragic, that it happened, but could have been prevented. My sympathies to his family.

    • #freebasingfearonthehill says:

      He needed that taser for work. He was on his way to work. He was eating dinner before work….

      • peezah says:

        and apparently pointed it at cops. and apparently had a restraining order against him for using it on a friend.

      • bether24 says:

        Needing the taiser for work explains why he had it on his body, but not why he took it out of the holster in the first place.

      • Rusty H says:

        He didn’t need to open carry it, holstered to look like a gun, on his way to work.

        The people buying tasers should be required to have a brief class warning you how to behave with one.

    • BJ says:

      Listen to the 911 calls

  6. Brian says:

    How many young adults and teens are killed in “street” and gang violence in SF annually? Sad that no one marches for them and against gang violence. It must not further an agenda to look introspectively as a community and take responsibility for ourselves, more convenient to blame others.

    Hindsight is 20/20 and I wish that the cops had not shot a young man and agree police forces everywhere are becoming too powerful, but the multiple people on the hill who saw a man with a holstered weapon were scared. Why were they scared? Read the next article.

  7. Ok says:

    Where was the community when this poor man needed their help? Where is this community when there are senseless acts of violence (including murder)?

    • La Colombianita says:

      Have you ever heard of the Mission Peace Collaborative? Did you know that Alex was a part of it? We are in the community trying to stop senseless acts of violence everyday. If you really care so much perhaps you should join us instead of criticizing the community “who wasn’t there”.

  8. David Kaye says:

    I spent over 10 years in radio and TV broadcasting, 2 years of that as a radio talkshow host in Portland. One thing I learned via ratings, surveys, and other indicators was that many people like to blast off with un-informed opinions. What’s more, people who used to enjoy talkradio listening have come to realize that nobody REALLY cares what “Joe in Moraga” thinks about anything. They know he’s blowing it out his ass. Thus, many radio talkshows limit the number of listener calls they take these days. (Gil Gross doesn’t take any.) Research has shown that the availability of a bully pulpit for everyone has diluted the value of public discourse.

    I see the same thing here. Dozens of people who WEREN’T EVEN THERE are protesting about the “killer cops”, UNFAIRLY berating police who were only trying to do their jobs, in a tense situation that could have resulted in more deaths and injuries had the guy had a real gun.

    I’m ASHAMED that Bernal residents (and the protest-bangers who show up at all these kinds of rallies) are subjecting the cops to their hatred. The cops feel bad enough as it is. The cop who actually killed the man is probably deep in grief over having had to kill someone.

    –david kaye

    • your neighbor says:

      As a Bernal neighbor and daily user of that park for the last fifteen years, I’m a little disappointed in Bernalwood and these comments. The demonstration served many functions, including allowing many of us to connect the dots in terms of understanding how we were connected to Alex through the community. I wasn’t surprised by the attendance of familiar neighbors and workers from local businesses but I was surprised to learn of several ways that I crossed paths with Alex over the years.

      I took the demonstration as an opportunity to mourn. Yes for an individual and his family and community but also for the loss of safety that many of us have felt since the police killed Alex in the park. It’s shocking and terrible. I found a demonstration in the rain a fitting opportunity to express anger and sadness alongside others impacted in a variety of ways by this tragedy. It felt like a fitting expression of democracy. To have it sullied here by a blog that wants to be a voice of our neighborhood is just sad.

      How is yesterday’s demonstration not compatible with the inquiry into Alex’s death? Street demonstration isn’t unheard of in Bernal and is not just a Mission thing. It’s very much a San Francisco thing, a Bay Area thing and a democracy thing — a covered/encouraged by the U.S. Constitution thing.

      Why does it matter if some portion of people at the demonstration were not from Bernal? Alex worked in SOMA and had friends and loved ones all over the Bay. We are all more than our home neighborhoods and this killing resonates in neighborhoods beyond our own.

    • BJ says:

      Listen to the 911 calls

    • IHeartBernal says:

      Couldn’t agree with you more, David, here and with your other comments. Unbelievable to me what a disgrace this protest was. Can you imagine the outrage if Alex had used that taser on a person or a pet, or, God forbid, it had been a gun and someone had gotten shot? Everybody would be going ballistic on the cops for NOT doing anything. It’s just infuriating, the treatment the police have received over this for just doing their jobs. People should be ashamed of themselves.

      • David Kaye says:

        I’ve seen the un-informed protest way too much. What’s worse is that the people who protest have no feelings for the people they’re protesting against; they don’t stop to think that people tend to do what they feel is best under the circumstances. They just can’t fathom that cops have families, lives, feelings. They prefer to think of “us” and “them” and that because the cops aren’t “us” therefore they must be “them” and must be wrong.

        Oddly enough this tends to be a liberal point of view. In my years of observation I’ve found that lefties tend to think in groups of people and righties tend to think in individuals. Lefties organize unions, righties prefer “right to work” options. Lefties set up charities, righties tend to help out people individually.

        Now, I happen to be a leftie, but I swear I’m sometimes embarrassed at the way lefties jump to conclusions without having all the facts because the person/people they’re against happen to fit their paradigm of who the “enemy” is supposed to be.

    • A says:

      “The state police officers bill of rights severely limits the authority local agencies have over their police officers and act in ways that prevent localities from maintaining police discipline. Furthermore, because of this, not only do police officers have a set of rights that exist over and above those of ordinary citizens, this set of additional rights makes it more difficult for law enforcement agencies to protect the more limited set of rights for citizens against abuses by police officers. In other words, not only do these laws give police officers more rights than the average citizens have, they also reduce the rights that citizens have by making it more difficult for police agencies to discipline bad officers, which only serves to encourage more abuse through a lack of consequences. … since this bill also forces localities to seal the disciplinary records of police officers, which would make it even more difficult than it is now to report on incidents of police misconduct and track them, which would reduce public pressure for police accountability reforms” (Packman). Police brutality affects all of us and until the state police officers bill of rights is legislatively challenged, we are subjected to becoming the next person being publically victimized by laws that do not protect the public from being harmed by police officers.

  9. George says:

    What a motley looking bunch. I’m glad I live in the prestigious South Slope.

  10. A says:

    I ripped a bill poster down from a Glen Park wall last week advertising this event. It said;

    “JUSTICE FOR ALEX. Alejandro (Alex) Nieto was murdered execution-style last Friday 3/21 by 3 SFPD cops who encircled him and fired 50 shots, 14 hitting him in the chest. The cops gave him no warnings, and following the shooting they vandalized his car and attempted to intimidate and illegally search his family’s home. Whether through gentrification or police brutality, people are being forced out of SF.

    “MARCH FOR ALEX! Meet at the Mission Cultural Center at 2868 Mission St in SF this Saturday 3/29 at 2:30pm to march from 24th and Mission to the top of Bernal Heights. We must stand up for Alex and NOT allow police to cover up this blatant example of racist police murder.”

    So a fairly even-handed and thoughtful response there, then.

    My views of the cops in Ingleside has been pretty positive. Whenever I’ve interacted with them they have been polite and professional. Hell, even the guy that gave me a (deserved!) traffic ticket did it courteously. The one time an officer acted like a real jerk when I called in a car robbery was dealt with quickly and effectively by Falvey. I’m sure other people have different experiences.

    We all have strong feelings about crime and policing. Take me, for instance: I have a very strong view that police should be helped to keep violent criminal filth off the streets.

    It’s clear that the net impact of these ‘campaigners’ is to make me and my family less safe by intimidating the police into not doing their job.

    • Brian says:

      Does anybody remember the name Edwin Ramos of the MS-13 gang? I am curious how the community supported the Bologna family in 2008. Did they march to stop gang violence I don’t remember? We should protest all violence.

      • Ok says:

        The hypocrisy here is unreal and apparently going unnoticed. How about the thugs that robbed that poor guy in broad daylight with a GUN. Even after complying he was punched.

        Where’s the outrage???

    • Ok says:

      Thank you for doing that. I’m more afraid of the people who are now demonizing police and the so-called gentrifiers.

  11. GP says:

    Thank you SFPD for keeping our city safe! Who would show up to our emergencies if you didn’t?

    • #freebasingfearonthehill says:

      Actually I would rather see the SFPD doing more then building revenue for the city. How about a pedestrian sting? My kids nearly get smacked into the air by speeding BMW’s on Cortland more frequently then I care to admit. Or a real try at battling the sex trade industry here in the city. Did you know that San Francisco is the largest port city for human slaves, mostly children under 12? If you want to “stick up” for the police, then get busy advocating for them to have more training and be a little older before they can patrol. It is very clear that this guy was shot because of over-reacting and jumpy officers. It is no small thing that a life is gone. Especially one that that was giving back to the community. This event has made me feel like I don’t like my neighbors anymore. It’s like I don’t really know anyone anymore and most come off as incredibly dopey, cold, and RIGHT. He was your neighbor.

      • peezah says:

        “It is very clear that this guy was shot because of over-reacting and jumpy officers. ”

        So you were there and witnessed it with your own eyes? I’m guessing you have it on film too?

      • David Kaye says:

        31 weeks of academy training, plus 16 weeks of field training. Isn’t that enough training? What’s the matter with you folks? Like “Joe from Moraga” the talkshow caller who knows NOTHING about his subject, you folks are just blabbing on and on about police needing even more training, when you don’t even know the facts.

        DO YOU KNOW any police? I currently know two active duty officers. I’ve known many in the past, as well as SF sheriff’s deputies. I don’t envy them their jobs or their salaries or their retirement pensions. They have make split-second decisions based on what appear to be facts in evidence.

        OH, you folks are going to say things like, “The police should have shot him in the leg”, not even knowing enough about guns to know that it’s nearly impossible to hit someone in the leg from a distance with a hand-held weapon.

        YOU FOLKS watch too much TV. TV is NOT the real world.

        As I said before, I’m certain that the police officer who killed Alex is in deep grief about having killed someone. Cops do NOT want to fire their weapons. Most have only fired them on the shooting range, and prefer it that way.

      • Ok says:

        I can’t believe I agree with David on this… ;)

      • Rusty H says:

        So you’re looking for an excuse to not like your ” incredibly dopey, cold, and RIGHT” neighbors. Maybe if you weren’t so judgmental to them they would be more friendly. I’m friendly to anyone who is friendly to me. But if you’re aggressively unfriendly to me, or calling me names, or insulting me, I’m not going to want to be your friend.

        Lately, it seems that everyone is looking for an excuse to make someone else their enemy.

        So let’s drop the hate and instead work together to keep something like this from happening again. That could include changes to police procedures as well as outreach program to people warning them about types of behavior that will provoke the wrong response from cops. Things like, no weapons in parks. Cops should bring someone skilled in negotiation and psychology with they are called out for “man with possible weapon” or someone acting violent.

        PS- The SFPD conducts pedestrian stings all the time in the Bernal area. Call them and request one on Cortland if you’re concerned by it, if a few people ask they will respond.

      • ann says:

        My agreement is with freebasingfearonthehill’s contribution earlier on.

  12. Faceword says:

    This debate is exactly why we need body cameras on cops. Without an objective record, it’s really difficult to know whether Alex Nieto was mentally ill and committed suicide by cop, or if the cops were negligently (or even maliciously) trigger-happy and are now covering for each other. Either way a video would go a long way to establishing what happened.

    Nevius had an article a few months ago that stated that body cameras were going to be rolled out on a trial basis. Any word on whether those will be used by the whole force anytime soon?

    http://www.sfgate.com/bayarea/nevius/article/S-F-police-seek-cameras-to-capture-whole-picture-4997404.php

  13. South of Bernal says:

    First, so I won’t be misunderstood: I think it’s terribly, terribly sad that Alex Nieto lost his life to a schizophrenic episode. I lost a friend to suicide when I was about his age, and didn’t recover for a year afterward. I can’t imagine the grief felt by his family and friends.

    That said: I just don’t see what else the police were supposed to do. Nothing I’ve read makes it look like a ‘gray area’ shooting.

    I second David Kaye’s observation that the officer in question likely feels rotten enough about this as it is.

    Some terrible things just happen in life, and aren’t anyone’s fault. It’s very sad that Alex didn’t get help before he died, but blaming a cop who didn’t have much choice won’t bring him back.

    • SAB says:

      Assuming all the facts took place exactly as the police have told us (big assumption), I am wondering…. What is the protocol for bringing down a purportedly mentally unstable target with what is believed to be a gun? Was this reasonable force under the circumstances?

      And for all those who insist the cops were in the right before we know all the facts, I wonder if you would feel the same if that were your brother or son.

  14. SAB says:

    I don’t understand why the commenters here have an issue with the demonstration of mourning and concern/outrage over the police’s action. Perhaps their message is making us uncomfortable? It’s easy to lay the blame elsewhere when confronted with a call to change. We might learn something if we ask ourselves why the procession bothers us.

    These parades or demonstrations are common at times of tragedy, and connected to the culture of the Mission/Bernal neighborhood we have chosen to live. When Christine Svanemyr was run over in Holly Park, many people right here on Bernalwood voiced opinions and interpretations long before the facts were known and called for changes in our park system. There was a well-attended vigil. There was a smaller vigil after the homeless man who frequented Precita Park, Stephen Stymiest, passed from injuries caused by a beating. Actually, I wish there had been a larger outcry after that terrible act of violence in our community.

    • David Kaye says:

      It is one thing to mourn someone, but this was an anti-police protest. Look at the photos. That’s a BIG difference. Once again, the police thought Alex was carrying a gun. The neighbors reported he was brandishing a gun. The 911 call was about him having a gun. And once again, I remind people that the officer in question likely is going through much grief over the fact that he killed someone.

      Such UN-informed opinion here for people who are supposedly well-bred and educated. Sheesh!

      • SAB says:

        Despite my uninformed state of being, I won’t bow to your superieor knowledge David Kaye. I realize you KNOW police officers (I don’t?) have already seen a completed report on the investigation, and have it on good authority that every word is completely true with no other sides to the story.

        When one of our Bernal neighbors was tragically run over in Holly Park by a worker, the public demonstration of mourning (by people who did not know her as well as those that did) was expressed along with outrage over the safety precautions in our park and the need to investigate the situation and reprimand that worker accordingly.

        When the police arrested the men who were holding up people at gunpoint around Cortland, there were calls to action among Bernalwood readers to telephone the DA and attend the trials, in order to demonstrate that we as a community take those crimes seriously.

        Why is this different?

        A young man of color was killed by the police. Again. This time because he was brandishing something that looked like a weapon (so we are told and which could be true and it could be that this situation was handled perfectly by the book). None of that mitigates the larger and deeper concerns. Back in 2007 Colorlines reported on research that showed black people are disproportionately killed by cops and that Latinos are on the rise in that equation. http://www.colorlines.com/archives/2007/11/killed_by_the_cops.html.

        So yes, I think there will be many people who feel that the circumstances of Alex’s death raise important concerns for the safety of our city and particularly our young men of color. Their demonstration (peaceful by all accounts) is meaningful and–among many things–is letting our public officials know that people care and justice is necessary.

        And if some neighborhs hadn’t been tearing down the flyers announcing that procession, I would have joined it. One more middle aged, middle class white lady in the mix.

      • David Kaye says:

        WHY IS THIS DIFFERENT? Because there were boatloads of people who said Alex had a gun and was brandishing it. THAT was the reason for the 911 call. THAT was what someone who was accosted by him earlier said. THAT is the difference.

    • robmokry says:

      A vigil is one thing but a full on cop hating and white hating/racist march and demonstration is something totally different. It is a shame that this tragic death has been hijacked by those elements. As for the anti-gentrification group I ask openly Who did you move out so you could move in? Does anyone remember what Bernal was like in the 80′s and early 90′s? Is that what they wish to preserve? I celebrate the change!

      • SAB says:

        I do not think that the only alternative to full on gentrification where mixed income people can live together is crime-ridden streets of the “bad old days”.

        That’s a false dichotomy.

        It’s not about preserving one “special moment in time” when things were “different”. It’s about trying to hold, divert, slow down, or reshape the change that is still going on around us. If we do not, there will come a day when you will look around and Bernal Heights will look nothing like the charming, eclectic, diverse, artsy community that so many of us say is the reason we live here.

      • robmokry says:

        In reply to SAB below….
        How do you pick and choose the precise time in space you wish to freeze and museum catalog the neighborhood? Seems pretty self serving, “Yep, I live here now and I do not want anyone else moving in changing anything or moving anything around.”
        One could argue that turnover – (I prefer not to use the term gentrification as it is a loaded word to suit the non-white racist agenda) never really started but is a natural progression of real estate markets. Since the early 1900′s when these houses were originally built, they were typically sold at a profit by the previous owner to someone who wished to purchase it – is that gentrification? Or is it only gentrification when a purchaser is of european decent?

  15. Jrod says:

    Whomever called the police in the first place to report somebody carrying a gun in the park should learn the difference between a taser which is marked with bright yellow and a hand gun which is not. Perhaps if this city was not so rabidly anti-gun, there could be some room for education on the subject.

    • peezah says:

      Oh please. If someone is in a public place behaving erratically and carrying anything that remotely resembles a gun, holstered or not, I would call the cops immediately. Even if I KNEW it was a taser, I would call. This guy already had a restraining order for using his taser on someone. Poor guy was clearly not in his right mind, and I feel horribly for his family, friends and the police involved.

      YOU, however, BLAMING a concerned citizen, are clearly mentally stunted.

      • IHeartBernal says:

        +10. Such an unbelievable amount of narrow-mindedness and idiocy in this whole thing. I am so sick and tired of this cop-hating, racism B.S. surrounding such a clear-cut issue. The man had what looked like a gun and an established record of mental instability. He was threatening people. He gave the police no choice but to shoot. Stop blaming everyone else for the actions of the victim. What a disgrace that protest was.

    • Ok says:

      Next time I see someone with a gun, I will take my time and properly determine the true danger.

      *bang* i’m dead

      • nsfw says:

        Under no circumstances was it up to a civilian to determine the threat level. This job should be left for someone who is paid to make that decision. Let the paid community servant suffer the consequences of making a poor decision.
        Have you heard of, “if you see something, say something”?
        More often people are witness to crimes and do nothing. I’m sure you have seen an infinite number videos showing people getting mugged and no one doing anything.

  16. GG says:

    That was a very diplomatic way to put it, Todd, thank you. Police brutality is a real issue, gentrification is a real issue, it’s unclear whether either was at play in this particular incident. We can all share in the sadness about a life that was lost, whether or not we agree on who or what is to blame.

  17. IHeartBernal says:

    How about this, you police-bashing protestors? You hate the cops so much, next time you call 911 they just don’t come. You’re on your own to defend yourself against the bad guys.

    It’s really disgusting that the death of Alex has spiraled into yet another platform for unbiased, uninformed, unwarranted hatred of the police. What if your child, friend, relative, or pet had been hurt by him shooting his Taser on the hill that day, or, God forbid, it was actually a gun (which it looked exactly like?) What then? I bet you’d be the first ones protesting that the police didn’t do their jobs, etc., etc., etc.

    You should be ashamed of yourselves.

  18. Herr Doktor Professor Deth Vegetable says:

    The entirely unnecessary and avoidable shooting of this poor guy by the police is, indeed, a tragedy. The fact that the perpetrators are almost certain to get off scot free only compounds the tragedy, sadly.

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