Alex’s father, Refugio Nieto hugs Jennifer Raviv after the decision was made to build a memorial with the proper language to remember Alex Nieto’s death in Bernal Heights, where he was shot 59 times by police officers in 2014. (TRISTEN ROWEAN/Golden Gate Xpress.)
Community honors memory of Alex Nieto five years after he was shot 59 times by SFPD.
SAN FRANCISCO—A cheering crowd surrounded Refugio Nieto at City Hall April 4, moments after commissioners solidified a memorial honoring his 28-year-old son who was shot and killed by San Francisco Police five years ago.
“At this moment I am very happy. My heart feels at ease,” Nieto said. “Now it’s beating how it should be.”
The San Francisco Recreation and Park Commission voted unanimously to approve the memorial, which will rest atop Bernal Hill, where Alex Nieto died. The words on the plaque dedicated to Nieto were read aloud to all who attended the final vote: “Against the violence and injustice of 59 bullets, family and grassroots community arose as a movement to promote the positive spirit and to defend the honor of a beloved young man, Alex Nieto, who was killed by the police. Amor for Alex Nieto.”
District 9 Supervisor Hillary Ronen addressed the crowd, at one point holding back tears.
“He was shot 59 times by the SF Police Department,” she said. “Now there’s going to be a lot of disagreement about what happened in between,
but those are facts that are documented on the plaque on this monument that I believe are essentially important because they’re acknowledging facts that occurred that are problematic aspects of our society here in San Francisco and in our country at large.”
The vote provided some closure for supporters of the Amor for Alex Nieto movement after a jury determined in Refugio Nieto, et al v. City
and County of San Francisco, et al that officers were not liable for wrongful death in November of 2015.
“It would be disrespectful, that we would even question one aspect of this project,” San Francisco Recreation and Park Commissioner Gloria Bonilla said. “Es justo y necesario. It’s just and necessary that we do this and that we do this wholeheartedly.”
After the memorial was approved, Refugio Nieto’s eyes narrowed as a smile took over the lower half of his face in recollection of his son. He
said even as a child, his son was a good kid who stayed in school and out of trouble. During Alex Nieto’s time at City College of San Francisco, he mentored at-risk youth. Refugio Nieto said his son came home one day and revealed his calling: working with youth in a juvenile detention center, pursuing a certificate in administration of justice.
But on March 21, 2014, those dreams were cut short when SFPD shot him 59 times at the top of Bernal Hill.
Photos by TRISTEN ROWEAN/ Golden Gate Xpress
Benjamin Bac Sierra, a longtime friend of Alex Nieto, organized the Amor for Alex Nieto movement. According to Sierra, Alex Nieto went to Bernal Heights Park to eat a burrito before heading to his security job at El Toro Night Club. Sierra said Nieto was dressed in his uniform, which included a taser, under a red San Francisco 49ers jacket when police got a call about a Latino man with a gun.
“In their mind, they’re going up to that hill thinking, ‘Let’s go kill the gang member, let’s go take the hill,’” Sierra said.
As a former Marine, Sierra said he understands the mentality he called “militarized police occupation forces,” which dispropor-
tionately targets people of color.
Alex knew the law, Sierra said. He even interned for a semester at the Youth Guidance Center’s Probation Department.
“He was a man that was working with children trying to help our kids do better in our lives, and we’re going to miss him,” Rafael Picazo, a friend of Alex Nieto, said.
“I miss seeing him on the street but you know what? He’s gone. And the best way we can memorize him is a memorial.”
The memorial is designed in the image of an indigenous medicine wheel with different colors and art pieces marking each direction to symbolize healing. The center will contain a laser cut image of Alex Nieto and a commemorative plaque with an inscription.
Sierra, who is also a community college English professor, said the memorial will be educational for all to learn about the history of police use of force in relation to the Latino community and other communities of color.
Sierra said he and Alex Nieto used to greet each other by asking, “What’s up with the movement holmes?,” at which point they discussed one another’s upward progress in life—their movement.
“When I used to ask that question to him, ‘What’s up with the movement?’ how could we possibly have ever imagined that he, Alex Nieto himself, would become the movement?”