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Community responds to vandalism with vigils at Alex Nieto Memorial!
"The vandalism to the Alex Nieto Memorial is a call to consciousness. No homey crossed out Alex’s face, for a homey would know the rules. Certain things are taboo. This vandalism is from someone who wants to erase Alex’s face so that it is not recognized, so that no neighbor can be a witness to his killing, so that no one can be reminded and reminded that on beautiful Bernal Hill, an innocent brown man was stitched by over a dozen bullets fired by the San Francisco Police Department." -- Ben Bac Sierra
Photo: The Alex Nieto Memorial on Bernal Hill was vandalized for the second time on July 22, after we had laid down a new banner on his 4th month anniversary of death.
1. A series of vandalisms and recoveries
On Sunday July 13th, 2014, we first informed supporters that the Alex Nieto Memorial on Bernal Hill was vandalized. Two days earlier, the banner with the phrase No Más Violencia de la Policía (No More Police Violence) was removed. The next day, the cross that Refugio Nieto (father of Alex) made by hand was stolen. Other altar items were scattered about.
On Monday July 14th, we recovered the loss of the banner with a mural board painted by Windsong, a Bernal Heights native and CCSF student. The mural shows a hawk and a dove, respectively representing a call for truth, and a call to stop police violence. The board mural was inscribed with the words La Verdad Nos Hará Libres (The Truth Shall Set Us Free.) Refugio would later make and place a new cross. At that time, we invited supporters to join us on July 21st for Alex’s fourth month anniversary of murder by SFPD.
On Monday July 21st, in the hour before sunset, surrounded by family, friends, and supporters, we set a beautiful new banner at the Alex Nieto Memorial.
On Tuesday July 22nd, the Alex Nieto Memorial site was seriously vandalized again. With gray paint, the vandal hatefully obliterated Alex’s visages as child and adult. The words on the banner “Justice For Alex Nieto!” and “Killed by SFPD on March 21, 2014”, as well as those on the mural board and a block with the Buddhist chant that Alex practiced Nam Myoho Renge Kyo were likewise sprayed over.
In response to the vandalism, Ben Bac Sierra explained the homeboy custom of writing Con Safos or C/S after a name, and reached out to the vandal for consciousness:
"The vandalism to the Alex Nieto Memorial is a call to consciousness. No homey crossed out Alex’s face, for a homey would know the rules. Certain things are taboo. This vandalism is from someone who wants to erase Alex’s face so that it is not recognized, so that no neighbor can be a witness to his killing, so that no one can be reminded and reminded that on beautiful Bernal Hill, an innocent brown man was stitched by over a dozen bullets fired by the San Francisco Police Department.
"Be conscious: We are Alex Nieto. We are present at Bernal Heights, in the Mission, Oakland, Santa Rosa, Pacifica, Salinas, Worldwide. Brown lives matter.
"My brown face, your brown face, our brown spirit will never be erased. Ultimately, we all return to the color of this gypsy earth, the color of Bernal Heights, and that dust and dirt will forever remind and remind and remind us of what happened that soft, sunny day when gunshots cracked the peace of our hearts. The truth cannot be erased."
We recovered the Memorial Site the best we could, but the new banner was ruined.
Next morning, Sunday July 23rd, the vandal struck again. Even the potted plants and flowers (left by supporters on Alex’s anniversary) had been tossed downhill, and the banner tagged again. The vandal’s repetitive and odious acts of disrespect were a terrible blow to the Nieto Family…
And this is when the magic happened. Con Safos became the incantation that raised Alex’s community…
2. Community responds spontaneously with vigils
On Monday, we began getting calls from all sorts of different people reaching out to us. They all wanted to hold vigils at the site: Would it be ok? Would the parents be alright with that? Diverse minds sprouted the same idea. Alex’s community was stepping up to keep his memory.
The night of Wednesday July 25th night, Elvira and Refugio Nieto, accompanied by María Villalta and Joey Vaez (committee members) arrived to the site. Friends of Joey’s came too: Fernando M. and Daniel G., and they all stayed until 10:30pm. At that time, Oscar S. and Antoinette R. arrived and did not leave until 4:30am. Ki Won dropped in for a couple of those late hours. Near midnight Mollie and her mom arrived with grilled cheese sandwiches and berries for the memorial keepers.
Barely had Oscar and Antoinette left at 4:30am, when Ben Bac Sierra arrived in the twilight of Thursday morning to pray and reflect at the peaceful Memorial Site until 5:45am. Unfortunately, when Refugio Nieto arrived at 9:30am the site had been tagged again, but we were no longer dismayed. We shook our heads and laughed, because we knew what would happen.
On Thursday night July 26th, Mission artists Rios and Suaro helped us paint the banner black with white letters to send a clear message: “Justice 4 Alex Nieto – Killed by SFPD – Respect”. Byron, Aracely, Joey, Hector (Alex’s brother) and Refugio Nieto all kept the artists company while they worked. Around midnight they left, but by then Ki Won, and Ahkeel, Tajin, Juana and Jidduo (loco bloco youth) had arrived to stay the night. Ki Won and Juana stayed until 6am.
In the wee hours of Friday July 27th, Maria and Adriana (committee members) watched the sunrise over the Bay. By 6:30am Refugio Nieto arrived with La Gorda (the 3 year old family blue pitbull.) They drank coffee made by Adriana and chatted and chatted. Harried dogwalkers of all sorts began to roam the hill. La Gorda whined for the other dogs to come visit her, and they often obliged. We began laughing about how everyone, even little old ladies, looked suspicious to us. We have our favorite suspect (one who seemed to be holding a can of spray paint).
There comes a moment during the morning on Bernal, when the stream of dog walkers and joggers becomes continuous and the Memorial is kept by the same life on the hill.
The last weeks on Bernal have been illuminating. We have learned that we have countless of anonymous supporters among the daily walkers on the hill. Even before the vigils began, while we were on the hill repairing the site, pedestrians often stopped to thank us for keeping the Memorial alive: Russell expressed how much he loved the Hill for its diversity and neighborliness, and expressed his sorrow at Alex’s shooting. Homeboy Raymundo stopped to stay he’d be happy to cover Alex’s Story in cholo magazine. Adriana and Maria even met one of the last people to have seen Alex alive on the hill. (Don’t worry, he already gave his witness statement.) All in all, the more time we spend on the hill, the more people who come around respectfully and curiously to ask us questions and learn about Alex’s Story.
On Friday night, Ki Won & Maria sat watching the stars until 2:30am, and Juana dropped in for that last hour from 1:15am -2:30am. We don’t know if others came after, but there seemed no stopping the Memorial keepers. Again there were keepers on the eve of Saturday July 26th, and more on Sunday morning. The site was safe, and all was quiet on the Bernal Front.
Monday July 27th, Alex’s parents made their daily day and evening journeys to find the site kept, until tonight. This evening, Tuesday July 29th, sometime before 9:30pm someone stole Alex’s portrait that used to hang around the cross. The vandal seems intent on divesting Alex Nieto of his humanity by erasing his face. Instead, now we know that each act of vandalism will multiply into an exponential number of acts of solidarity and kindness from friends and strangers alike. As news of the attacks gets around, more peaceful keepers arrive; self-appointed heroes and heroines for a minute or all hours of the day. They stop and ask questions if they see someone at the Alex Nieto Memorial. Most likely, on coming to the site, they’ll make a new friend, another keeper doing the same. Tonight there are keepers on the hill.
The Alex Memorial Site will be undoubtedly vandalized again as we get closer to the truth. The day is nearing when the legal process will force the City to provide evidence about the evening when Alex Nieto was shot to death by police (911 call, witness statements, police reports, etc.) Rather than forget Alex, more of his life will be recovered and memorialized.
On August 21st, 2014, Alex’s fifth month anniversary of being killed by SFPD, we will have a sunset to sunrise vigil on Bernal Hill. You are invited. (It’s beautiful up there! Come and see!)
Blessings to all the outspoken and anonymous keepers of Alex’s memory and his cause for justice!
We can’t stop thanking you enough…!
The Truth Will Set Us Free, La Verdad Nos Hará Libres, and the time is near to gain more of it.
July 29, 2014
Justice for Alex Nieto Committee