Non-white lives are not valued in our society, unless they are those of people like Beyoncé or Kanye West, in which case they are only valued because they generate big money.
On the first day of classes, the Student Union of San Francisco at SF State intended to join in a nationwide student walkout in solidarity with Ferguson, MO. The nationwide call to action across campuses honored Michael Brown and what would have been his first day of college, while it simultaneously denounced racial profiling and police brutality.
However, due to a lack of time and organization, the event culminated with the members passing out leaflets and information rather than a walkout, according to member Devin Lee. Although the students’ objective to walk out didn’t go through, they nonetheless made a bold statement of solidarity with Ferguson.
The action could not have been more relevant to our campus and city community because of one person: Alejandro “Alex” Nieto. In a university as diverse as ours, where more than 70 percent of the student population is students of color, demonstrating solidarity with Ferguson is important because there are plenty of black and brown lives here.
Nieto was a 28-year-old man who was fatally shot on March 21 by the San Francisco Police Department (SFPD) at Bernal Heights Park. Nieto was a student at City College of San Francisco. He did not have a gun at the time SFPD stopped him in response to a call about a suspicious man. The caller mistook Nieto’s taser, which he legally carried for his job as a security guard, for a gun.
With an air of fear, SFPD proceeded to fire at least 11 shots at the brown man leaving his body “grossly disfigured and mortally wounded”, according to a federal civil rights lawsuit filed by Nieto’s family against San Francisco and SFPD.
By now the connection between Nieto and Brown should be obvious: both men were unarmed, young men of color who were brutally gunned down by the police who received impunity.
In both cases, irrelevant things were said to justify the crime following the killing. In the aftermath of Alejandro Nieto’s fatality, the police department justified the shots to Nieto’s body by saying that Nieto had pointed a taser at the officers. Likewise, the Ferguson Police Department released a videotape alleging that Brown had stolen $48.99 worth of cigars. That statement has not been proven true– but that is not the point.
The facts are that in both cases unarmed men of color were murdered by an armed and militant police force. The facts are that these men are dead, and the ones responsible for their deaths have been spared of any consequences. SFPD has yet to name the officers responsible for killing Nieto, and Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson is on paid administrative leave before he returns to duty.
If at this point, you may remain skeptical of the link between racial profiling, devaluing of non-white lives and police brutality, I urge you to make a quick search of the following names: Trayvon Martin, Ervin Jefferson, Rekia Boyd, Aiyana Jones and Pearlie Golden.*
Those are too many lives lost to keep pardoning the police’s actions with excuses that the people killed were either threatening or were on drugs or had stolen something. In the end, you will either think that people of color are barbaric people who provoke the police (and therefore their deaths), or that the police greatly abuse their power, particularly with people of color. Next time there is a call to action on campus, those who realize the latter should be there to say that our lives matter and that we refuse to live in a culture of fear.
*The list continues: Amadou Diallo, Patrick Dorismond, Ousmane Zongo, Timothy Stansbury, Sean Bell, Orlando Barlow, Aaron Campbell, Victor Sheen, Ronald Madison, Oscar Grant, Jordan Davis, Kenneth Chamberlain, Abner Louiama, Kimani Gray, Kendrec McDade, Timothy Russell, Steven Washington, Alonzo Ashley, Wendell Allen, Travares McGill, Ramarley Graham, Tyrone Brown, Stephen Lawrence, Ernest Hoskins, Jr., Chavis Charter, Keaton Otis, Danroy “DJ” Henry, Jr., Idriss Stelley, Tony Sullivan, Roger Owensby, Jr., Timothy Thomas, Stephon Watts, Cornel Young, Jr., Alan Blueford, Tarika Wilson, Miriam Carey, Shantel Davis, Tyisha Miller, Kendra James, Shelly Frey, Shereese Francis, Shulena Weldon, Erica Collins, Adaisha Miller, Alesia Thomas, Darnesha Harris, Delores Epps, Heather Parker, Jacqueline Robinson Culp, Karen Day Jackson, Laporsha R. Watson, Mackala Ross, Melissa Williams, Monae Turnage, Rekia Boyd, Robin Taneisha Williams, Shantel Davis.