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Protesters at the Alex Nieto March and Vigil raise their arms in solidarity with victims of the recent police brutality in Ferguson, MO on August 22. Photo Alejandro Galicia

Protesters gathered along the slope of Bernal Hill at the site of Alejandro “Alex” Nieto’s memorial on Aug. 22 to begin a three-mile march from the Mission District to the San Francisco Federal Building. There, the more-than 100 supporters celebrated the Nieto family’s decision to file a civil lawsuit against the city to expedite the investigation into the 28-year-old Nieto’s death.

Nieto was fatally shot March 21 by San Francisco police officers responding to an anonymous 911 call, and five months later, his family is still no closer to finding answers. The Medical Examiner’s office has not released its pathology report; Mayor Ed Lee has made no public comment about the incident; and police have not disclosed the names of the involved officers, the number of bullets fired, the original 911 calls, or eyewitness reports.

This lack of action has stalled the legal process surrounding the incident and angered the community.

“Alex Nieto is a man betrayed,” said Adriana Camarena, a member of the Justice for Alex Nieto Committee. “Instead of the facts, the public has received a curated version of the facts by police. We are here because we do not believe that version of events.”

According to a report given by Police Chief Greg Suhr during a town hall meeting in March, four SFPD officers confronted Nieto just after 7 p.m. and shot him to death when he refused to relinquish a firearm that he, allegedly, aimed at them. The officers then discovered that the weapon in question was not a gun, but rather a work-issued Taser that Nieto carried for his job as a nightclub security guard.

Although the SFPD justified the officers’ use of lethal force, supporters of Nieto disagree with the department’s history of events, in large part because Nieto studied criminal justice at City College of San Francisco and planned to pursue a career as a parole officer.

Protesters at the Alex Nieto March and Vigil are escorted by police on 24th Street, August 22. Photo Alejandro Galicia

“Alex was a good friend of mine,” said Mission neighbor Joey Vaez. “None of their story adds up. As someone who was in the criminal justice department at San Francisco City College, he knew police protocol. It just doesn’t make sense. It’s frustrating and enraging.”

Protestors at Friday’s march, known as the “Alex Nieto Rises! March for Civil Rights Against Police Killings,” echoed Vaez’s anger over the recent surge in police-related violence. As the marchers passed through The Mission, they chanted, “Fire racist cops!” and “How do you spell murder? S-F-P-D!” They expressed solidarity for the struggles of protesters in Ferguson, Missouri, where earlier this month, police gunned down 18-year-old Michael Brown.

“People are calling us from all over the world in solidarity with Ferguson,” said political activist and 33-year Mission resident Gloria La Riva, who had just returned from protesting in Missouri. “This is international. It’s not fear; it’s utter racist disregard for the people. We have to fight together.”

Other victims of police violence marched alongside the Nieto family, including La Mesha Irizarry, the mother of Idriss Stelley. Stelley was shot 48 times by nine SFPD officers on June 12, 2001. To this day, none of the officers involved have been held accountable. Musician and activist Francisco Herrera, whose cousin was killed by police in Indio, California, also rallied with protesters.  Herrera fasted in front of City Hall for eight days to raise awareness for the plight of undocumented minors crossing the United States border. On Friday he broke his fast in support of justice for Alex Nieto.

“Those kids at the border,” Herrera said. “They’re fleeing the same thing that killed Alex: the militarization of our society. If a police officer cannot work out a nonviolent issue without guns, he should not be a police officer.”

Despite the anger felt by protestors, the march proceeded peacefully. Aztec danzantes led the march by dancing the entire three-mile route from Bernal Hill to the Federal Building. SFPD officers on motorcycles facilitated the march and did not have any negative encounters with protesters.

“You’re not hearing anyone say, ‘F the police,’” said Irizarry.  “We believe in humanity. We believe that humanity can be restored. Nobody needs to be butchered.”

After hours of marching, the protesters reached the Federal Building and listened to several speakers talk about Alex and the injustice of police impunity. Among those who spoke was family attorney John Burris, who expressed confidence that the police report given by Chief Suhr would be disproved.

“Even though we have not received the pathology report,” Burris said, “we did see the body and take photographs of it, so we know what happened in terms of the number of shots. We feel very comfortable saying that the 10 shots fired on Alex were an execution, and were not justified by any conduct in which he engaged.”

After Burris and his associate, Andante Pointer, spoke to the crowd, the long day of protest came to a close.  “Gente,” announced Benjamin Bac Sierra, a close friend of Alex’s and organizer of the march. “I want you to remember this day, this beautiful day, for the rest of your lives.  This is the beginning of the fight, not the end.”