Nieto Family Files Wrongful Death Complaint in Federal Court

nietorally1

Nietomemorial3

nietomemorial4

nietomarch1

Grieving families. Medical examiner reports. Demands to release the names of the officers involved.

There is a grim parallelism to many of the recent officer-involved deaths across the country, including the cases of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Eric Garner in New York City, and Alex Nieto here in Bernal Heights. But there are also important differences. In Ferguson and New York, medical examiners’ reports have been completed and released, and the identity of the officers involved in the incidents has been made public. But that hasn’t happened in San Francisco.

Against that backdrop, last Friday’s memorial for Bernal resident Alex Nieto on Bernal Hill was noteworthy not just because it was entirely peaceful, tightly focused, and well-organized, but also because it underscored the fact that, even after five months, Alex Nieto’s family still seeks the kind of basic information about their son’s death that has already been made public in high-profie cases elsewhere.

Friday’s march coincided with the Nieto family’s filing of a wrongful death complaint in federal court regarding the officer-involved shooting of Alex Nieto on March 21.

KQED reports:

The parents of a 28-year-old man shot and killed by San Francisco police officers on March 21 filed a federal lawsuit against the city and its police chief Friday.

The lawsuit disputes statements SFPD Chief Greg Suhr made just days after the shooting, and supporters of the slain Alejandro Nieto are suggesting a cover-up. Attorneys for Refugio and Elvira Nieto say witnesses came forward to dispute the assertion that Nieto pointed a Taser stun gun at officers just before he was shot.

A crowd of about 150 marched from the site of Nieto’s shooting to San Francisco’s federal courthouse Friday. Protesters’ chants referenced several controversial shootings by Bay Area police and the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri that has recently dominated national news.

Nieto’s death sparked anger in San Francisco’s Mission District. He was well known in the neighborhood and a criminal justice student at City College of San Francisco where he was studying to become a juvenile probation officer. He had been an intern with the city’s probation department.

He also worked as a security guard at a nightclub near the Mission and carried a Taser for the job. Nieto stopped to eat a burrito atop the city’s Bernal Heights Park on his way to work the evening he was shot.

Someone saw the holstered Taser and called police, according to Suhr’s statements and SFPD scanner traffic from the night of the shooting.

Suhr told an angry crowd at a March 25 town hall meeting that officers approached Nieto and asked him to show his hands. He said Nieto drew his Taser, which automatically emits a laser sight. Officers only shot after they noticed the red dot “on them, tracking,” Suhr said.

“They believed it to be a firearm, and they fired at Mr. Nieto,” Suhr said. “Mr. Nieto went to the ground. He assumed a prone position, again he acquired the dot, continued to track as other officers arrived.”

Suhr said at the time Nieto was prohibited from owning a firearm “for mental health reasons,” a statement also disputed by his supporters.

Oakland-based attorneys John Burris and Adante Pointer are representing Nieto’s parents. Pointer said sustained protests in the Mission District compelled witnesses to contact their office.

“The notion that he was waving a Taser, displaying a Taser, acting out violently with this Taser in any way toward the officers just flies in the face of what independent parties have come forward to say,” Pointer said.

SFPD Chief Suhr’s March 25 community meeting stands as the most up-to-date official account of the events that culminated in Nieto’s death, but it beggars belief that the City still cites that meeting as its official version of events. The problem is not that the March 25 meeting was chaotic and emotional — which it was. The problem is that it was preliminary and unverified. In the five months that have elapsed since the meeting, its credibility has been undermined by the City’s failure to complete the medical examiner’s report in the Nieto case and the unconfirmed nature of the SFPD’s accounting of what happened on Bernal Hill during the evening of March 21.

The City and the SFPD are doing themselves no favors here.

This is Elvira and Refugio Nieto, in the right foreground, carrying a banner during Friday’s march to the Federal Courthouse. Neighbors Refugio and Elvira live on Cortland Avenue, and Alex Nieto was their son:

refugio.elvira.march

In the absence of a more complete and credible set of facts about the March 21 incident, it’s not hard to understand why Alex Nieto’s grieving family and friends — our Bernal neighbors — are using whatever means possible to develop their own narrative about how and why his life was taken.

PHOTOS: Alex Nieto Memorial on Friday, August 22, 2014 by Telstar Logistics

Airbnb Hosts Stage Backyard Rally in Bernal Heights

bernalfairshare

In addition to the counter-protest at Planned Parenthood, there was another demonstration event in Bernal Heights yesterday, but this second action was taken by neighbors who generate income by renting out space in their homes for vacation rentals. They call themselves Fair to Share San Francisco, and the Examiner tells the story:

It helped Marcia Weisbrut get on her feet after cancer. It paid for Rodolfo Cancino’s dental bills. It has allowed [Bernal resident] Greg De Meza to start paying off debts incurred during the recession.

The common thread in all their stories was the short term rental service provided by Airbnb, which is illegal in San Francisco.

The testimonials — some voiced over a P.A. system — were on display in a Bernal Heights backyard Thursday by groups launching the Fair to Share San Francisco campaign. The campaign’s aim is simple: Legalize the money-making short term rentals that Airbnb’s business model is built upon.

On hand to make their case were a collection of short-term rental hosts, representatives of Airbnb and Peers, a “sharing economy” advocate.

The push comes amidst efforts by local leaders to solve or at least ameliorate a severe housing shortage combined with steep rents, which some Airbnb opponents have linked to the company, among others.

Into that fray, the campaign aims to back legislation like Board of Supervisors President David’s Chiu’s proposal to regulate and legalize short term rentals.

The Examiner explains that Fair to Share has received substantial support from Airbnb — including the group’s basic organizational push, recruitment, brochures, and even the PA system used at the Bernal event. That’s not a bad thing — Airbnb and its hosts are a legitimate interest group with an interest in the City’s political process — but it is important to note.

In the article, Neighbor Emily, who launched the rather clever Airbnb concierge service we’ve told you about before, argued for the stabilizing effect that vacation rentals can have on San Francisco neighborhoods:

Emily Benkert, a 17-year city resident who rents out rooms in her Bernal Heights home and has started a business that helps people run their Airbnb rentals, said the service is not a detriment to The City. “This isn’t hurting anybody,” she said. “We’re not kicking people into the street.”

Instead, she argues, Airbnb’s absence would force people to leave San Francisco since the extra income they make is what allows them to stay.

PHOTO: Bernal neighbor Greg De Meza, by Mike Koozmin, SF Examiner

Local Ladies Use Unicorn Power to Counter Bernal Planned Parenthood Protests

unicornpower

Equipped only with a few signs, a deep appreciation for the bizarre, and plenty of Grrl Power zeal, a gallant group of local ladies staged a rally at the Planned Parenthood on Valencia yesterday to counter the anti-choice protesters who have recently been more aggressive there.

The professionally fashionable Neighbor Dema shared this dispatch from the sidewalk:

Our goal was to defuse an ugly situation with humor. I think some people were quite confused, especially by the “Unicorns Are Real” poster, but we had a very positive response. One guy instantly donated $100 to Planned Parenthood on his phone, one woman brought us muffins, and the kind folks at Terra Mia gave us free coffee! We also got several people to become members of PP. Success!

Unicorns Forever!

Well played, local ladies. Well played. You make us proud. Also: Unicorns forever!

PHOTO: via Neighbor Dema

Supreme Court Decision Amps Up Protestors at Valencia Planned Parenthood Clinic

Recently, a unanimous US Supreme Court decision invalidated a Massachusetts law that created protest-free “buffer zones” around clinics that provide abortion services, on the grounds that the law violates the First Amendment right to free speech. San Francisco has a similar buffer-zone law, which has been much appreciated at the Planned Parenthood on Valencia Street in recent years.

Yet because of the Supreme Court ruling, San Francisco’s law also is in jeopardy, and Bernal’s Plannned Parenthood clinic reports that incidents of harassment by protesters are on the rise — although City officials are reluctant to do much about it. The Chronicle has the story:

Planned Parenthood executives say San Francisco police and the city attorney aren’t doing enough to protect patients and staff from “harassment and intimidation” at the organization’s health center on Valencia Street.

“Each week, as the harassment and intimidation escalate … the city’s ordinances are violated ever more flagrantly,” Planned Parenthood’s Bay Area chapter leader, Heather Saunders Estes, wrote in a July 22 letter to City Attorney Dennis Herrera.

And when center staffers call police, they are told that “there is nothing they can do,” Saunders Estes wrote.

The latest protest rift was brought on by last month’s U.S. Supreme Court decision striking down Massachusetts’ 35-foot no-protest zone around clinics.

The protesters now ignore San Francisco’s 25-foot buffer zone as they pass out literature, and film staffers and patients entering the building, clinic reps complain.

SFist adds that “Planned Parenthood’s Bay Area chapter asks volunteer escorts to sign up here.”

Hat Tip: SFist

PHOTO: Protestors outside Valencia Planned Parenthood clinic in 2011, by peephole

New Book About Bernal Library Mural Is Required Reading for San Francisco

librarymuralnew

Bernal Story 4.25x6 Postcard SMALL FILE

Bernal neighbor Beth Roy has written a short, must-read book about the challenges San Francisco faces as the city polarizes along the fault lines of new vs. old, Anglo vs. ethnic, progressive vs. centrist, forward-looking vs. backward-remembering, and high-tech vs. working class.

Blessedly, that’s not the subject of Neighbor Beth’s book. The subject of her book is the new mural that covers the exterior of the Bernal Heights Library on Cortland, and the intense mediation effort that was undertaken in 2010 to resolve the then-contentious question of whether the old, 1980s-era mural should be restored, or if the facade of the Works Progress Administration (WPA)-era building should returned to its original, mural-free appearance.

Neighbor Beth is a professional mediator, which is a handy thing, because her services were called upon in 2010 to help formulate a plan for the Bernal library that all parties in the controversy could support and feel good about.

That’s what the book is all about. The committee of neighbors who joined the library art committee began as antagonists and cultural rivals, but by the end of the mediation process —and with a lot of patient, hard work — they developed a plan for the library based on a very real, no-bullshit foundation of mutual respect and collaboration.  Even more impressive (if the general absence of substantial grumbling is any indication), the new library artwork that emerged from the process has been a creative success as well. Trifecta!!!

In practical terms, the Bernal neighbors who participated in the library mural mediation a) got some actual stuff done while also b) learning to appreciate each other’s point of view, and c) moving beyond the theatrics and confrontationalism of direct action and political organization. San Francisco could use a lot more of that these days.

Neighbor Beth’s new book is called “The Bernal Story: Mediating Class and Race in a Multicultural Community,” and it was just published by Syracuse University Press as part of their Peace and Conflict Resolution series. Don’t let the academic pedigree and subtitle deter you —  this book is a highly engaging and insanely relevant read. Plus, you probably know a few of the main characters, because they’re your neighbors. Which is fun.

If you’d like a copy, you can get one as you congratulate Neighbor Beth at her glamorous book party this Saturday, July 26 from 5-7 pm at the Inclusions Gallery on Cortland.

Until then, here’s an excerpt from The Bernal Story that gives a good sense of what transpired:

Shortly before the meeting, Johanna called me for help formulating some feelings she was having about Mauricio and his campaign. She had caught a radio broadcast of an interview with him and others from his Save the Bernal Library Mural group. She was upset at what seemed to her to be a misrepresentation of the process we were in, as well as some harsh rhetoric she feared would rekindle flames of opposition just as we were coming together to craft a shared solution.

I supported her to speak her mind and coached her to formulate what she felt in the forms I had taught. When we gathered at the Neighborhood Center the evening of February 24th, Johanna opened the dialogue by addressing Mauricio with her “Held Feelings” and “Paranoias”. Mauricio heard her respectfully, demurring that the sharpest rhetoric had come not from him but from others in his group. Brandon joined the conversation with the “Paranoia” that it nonetheless represented what Mauricio thought. Mauricio validated that such language once might have come from him but he was seeing the value of a non-abrasive approach.

What was true, however, was that, as we approached consensus, he was uncertain how to turn the organizing campaign he had initiated in the direction of collaborative problem-solving. He suggested it was a bit too soon; his people needed more tangible evidence that their voices were in fact being heard before they’d be willing to lower the volume. With all the sweetness and authority at his command, Larry urged Mauricio to accept both the influence he had on his community and the responsibility to use it to support the mediation process.

Once again, this pivotal exchange helped focus the group’s good will on crafting a viable solution, helping to convince people that Mauricio was indeed on board. Terry led off the discussion. He had come into the mediation grounded in his knowledge of the library’s history and wishing it restored to the WPA façade. Now, however, he declared full support for the direction we were taking, looking forward with an historian’s eye to making new art. “What we have here,” he said, “is an opportunity to do a significant event in the neighborhood. This is the time people will look back to fifty years from now, just as we look back fifty years to the original painting.”

Giulio, who had spoken so vividly for the restoration of the mural, now said, “The library’s history is so much about struggle. In the new work, we can incorporate the WPA struggle as well.”

Each person spoke in turn about their hopes for the new work. People imagined plazas reaching to the recreation center, improvements to the playground, and more. With the keen eye of a practical visionary, Mauricio again re-focused the discussion on the library walls.

I very much appreciated the spirit of the meeting. Clearly, every individual in the room leaned toward a creative conclusion. But I knew that there were still major disagreements as well. We had formed a direction in theory, but we still had not truly come to agreement about the thorniest issue: the Cortland wall. Now, as we began to craft the final details of the agreement, I once again named that elephant in the room. I worried that the waves of good feeling might sweep people into an agreement that hadn’t deeply enough addressed the conflict. That was the dynamic that had happened at the end of the second session, and I could well imagine it’s happening again now. I wanted people to look squarely into the face of division and emerge with a stronger consensus.

The group rolled up their collective sleeves and proceeded to take my draft statement apart, line by line. Now and then the discussion stalled on a particular point: on a range from restoring the mural to eliminating it, where should we fall? Would the walls end up mostly bare with a few pale remnants of what was now there? Or would we reproduce the current mural, only in a smaller scale that better respected the architecture? Each time we hit one of those hard disagreements, someone – often Michael or Monique, the two participants least fixed in a position and therefore most able to access creative new ideas – suggested something that re-opened the sense of possibility and re-engaged the group in collaboration.

Michael, for instance, fantasized free-standing objects illuminated at night, perhaps even with changing images projected in space. Monique nudged the discourse away from old-timers and new-comers, or Anglos and Latinos, reminding us of all the young uncategorizable people in the community who were not well described by those terms: same sex families, multi-racial couples, returned descendants of generations-old residents.

As we proceeded, we changed words, substituting, for instance, “Revitalizing the Mural” for “Updating the Mural”. We adjusted the emphasis to focus on meanings of the work and the process by which it would be produced, resisting our own creative imaginings of the artwork itself. “Leave the artwork to the artists” became the motto of the group, even though it was difficult to restrain the flow of creativity released by our process. Finally, we all agreed that the consensus statement should end by quoting the statement Terry had made at the beginning of the evening: We were making history right along with art.

PHOTO: Top, Cortland facade of new Bernal Library artwork, 2014, by Telstar Logistics

Air Combat: Precita Park and the Civic Politics of Drones

park.png

Well, since we already live in the future, this was probably inevitable…

While Bernal neighbors conduct an ongoing conversation about the social norms associated with the presence of dogs in Precita Park, Neighbor Ruby reports that some Bernal residents are also trying to sort out the social norms associated with the presence of drones in Precita Park:

Thought you might be interested in an event that transpired [on June 25].

My partner Mary was at home when she heard an infernal noise emanating from Precita Park. We live on the park, so so threw on a jacket and raced outside.

There were two middle-aged guys there flying a drone!

She scolded them furiously and announced, “We don’t’ allow drones in our parks!”

They argued with her but she didn’t back down and finally they left, drone in hand. She said the drone made such an infernal noise and was so threateningly military-esque that all the dogs in the park were cowering.

Now, on a purely factual basis, there is no posted prohibition on the use of drones in Precita Park. (Yet.) There is, however, is a sign saying that dogs must be on leashes — which is generally disregarded. All of which may indicate that Bernalese prefer governance by implicit codes of personal responsibility and good neighborliness, rather than by explicit rules or legal regulations.

Or maybe not.

Regardless of who’s right or less-right in this scenario, the incident is an innnnnteresting harbinger of a civic conversation we are likely to have sooner rather than later — as neighbors, as a city, and as a nation.

Will we take a liberal attitude toward the technologies of future? Or will we establish drone equivalents to the Locomotive Acts of the 1800s, “which required all road locomotives, which included automobiles, to travel at a maximum of 4 mph in the country and 2 mph in the city – as well as requiring a man carrying a red flag to walk in front of road vehicles hauling multiple wagons”?

Either way, if you’ve enjoyed the discussion about canine leash policies, enforcement, tolerance, responsibility, shared space, and dog poop in Precita Park, you may also enjoy having a forward-looking conversation here about the politics of using remotely controlled flying machines in Precita Park as well.

Or maybe not.

UPDATE (promoted from the comments):  Neighbor Mat, the pilot of the drone involved in the incident above, describes a different version of encounter:

Well there certainly is two sides to every story. I’m one of the “middle aged men” who was flying the drone that day.

Before even touching the obviously spicy debate of whether I should or shouldn’t be able to fly a drone in a park by my house, I’d like to point out how ridiculously overblown her explanation of the situation is. The Funny thing is that I have the entire thing on video from the drone.

First of all, the conversation lasted all of 30 seconds (actually exactly 23 seconds) and I immediately said, ok, thats fine I’m your neighbor and I don’t want trouble. I did take the time to tell her that no this is not a military device, and no I can not remotely come close to seeing in her window.

Secondly this comment on the dogs “cowering” is just ridiculous. There was not a single dog remotely close to us. And in fact here is a screen shot from our footage that clearly shows that. I’m a Bernal dog owner myself, and if I thought that I was remotely disturbing somebodies pup I would immediately shut it down. http://s28.postimg.org/gqf2ibvh9/park.png

I’m not going to spend my entire day arguing with people on whether drones should or shouldn’t be allowed in Precita park, but I just wanted to point out that the original message really makes the situation out to be a lot different than it was.

The woman that confronted us completely had her mind made up that this was some sort of military device and that we were the enemy. The fact is that we are two of her neighbors using our day off to do something creative with ourselves and capture some cool and interesting footage of our neighborhood. If she is afraid of her privacy or neighborhood being violated, I think there are bigger battles to fight than two long haired guys sipping coffees and taking selfies with a go-pro on drone.

As for the topic of the noise, yes the drone makes a sound. The model that we were using maxes out at 82db and of course dissipates as it flies away. A gas powered lawn mower is about 100db. There is no question that the noise levels of a multiple bouncy castles full of children or Cesar Chavez at any time of time are much louder.

PHOTO: Image of Precita Park captured by Neighbor Mat’s drone, at the time of the incident described in this post.

Your Superhyperlocal Analysis of 2014 Primary Election Results from Bernal Heights

bernal2014primary

We voted on Tuesday! (You did vote, didn’t you???)

As you might have heard, in the closely watched primarily battle to succeed [Bernal resident] Tom Ammiano for the District 17 State Assembly seat, D3 Supervisor David Chiu prevailed over D9 Supervisor [and Bernal resident] David Campos by five points citywide. (The two will face-off again in the general election in November.) Meanwhile, Prop B, which limits waterfront development, passed citywide in a 59% to 41% vote.

All politics is superhyperlocal, however, so what was the tally like for voters from Bernal Heights? And for different parts of Bernal Heights? For this, we turn to Neighbor Adam K., who just scored a truckload of Awesome Points by preparing this tidy package of Bernal Heights election data and analysis. Over to you, Adam:

I looked at just two votes: the Campos/Chiu race and the Prop B ballot initiative (concerning waterfront development).  I was interested in the Campos/Chiu totals mainly because of chatter in other posts about how representative of Bernal Heights Campos is or isn’t, and I was interested in the Prop B results because of chatter in other posts regarding development and growth issues.

The results might surprise some readers (or maybe just commenters) of Bernalwood, where the comments appear to skewer against Campos and against Prop B (or pro-development). But as I understand it, these results are pretty indicative of historical Bernal Heights voting patterns.  Interesting to me, considering its hot status as the “it” neighborhood, North Bernal skewers more left than South Bernal.

The quick take-away is that in this election, with about 25% of registered Bernalites voting, Campos beat Chiu 55% to 35%.  And Prop B won by a bigger margin, 60% to 35%.  The vote numbers are very close, with one deviation: it appears that some number of folks who voted for Prop B did not vote for either Campos or Chiu (Campos got less total votes than Prop B did, while Chiu got about the same number of votes as no votes on Prop B).

Here are the details:

Assembly:

Campos                         Chiu

North Bernal:              1330    (59.5%)           722      (32.3%)
Ballots cast: 2234, or 27.55% of registered voters

South Bernal:              1109    (50.1%)           864      (39%)
Ballots cast: 2212, or 25.31% of registered voters

Bernal Heights total:    2439   (54.85%)        1586    (35.7%)


Prop B:

Yes                        No

North Bernal:              1359    (60.8%)           772      (34.6%)
Ballots cast: 2234, or 27.55% of registered voters

South Bernal:              1284    (58%)              783      (35.4%)
Ballots cast: 2212, or 25.31% of registered voters

Bernal Heights total:    2643    (59.45%)        1555    (34.9%)

(Numbers in parenthesis are percent of total votes)

PHOTO: 2014 Primary Election Day in Bernal Heights, by Sarah Rogers