SAN FRANCISCO (CN) — The San Francisco Board of Supervisors on Tuesday approved the city’s first memorial for a police shooting victim, despite arguments that such a monument disrespects police officers.
Alejandro “Alex” Nieto, a 28-year-old Latino man, was shot and killed by four police officers at Bernal Heights Park on March 21, 2014. The City College student had stopped to eat a burrito on his way to work as a security guard when someone called police to report an armed man in the park. Nieto had a Taser on his hip, which he carried legally for work.
Police say Nieto defied orders to show his hands and pointed what looked like a gun with a red laser beam at them. Officers unloaded 48 rounds at Nieto, 14 to 15 of which hit him.
Nieto’s family claimed an independent investigation and eyewitness contradicted the officers’ version of events, but an eight-member jury exonerated the officers in March this year after an emotional, eight-day trial.
The Board of Supervisors on Tuesday voted 9 to 1 to erect a memorial in the park where Nieto was killed.
District 2 Supervisor Mark Farrell was the only No vote, saying it sends the wrong message to “the men and women of our police department who put their lives on the line every day.”
Farrell said Board of Supervisors has done nothing to recognize officers who have lost their lives in the line of duty, and has “forgotten the debt we owe to these men and women.”
District 10 Supervisor Malia Cohen vehemently rejected Farrell’s insinuation that supervisors could not memorialize the tragic shooting death of Nieto while also recognizing the contributions and sacrifices of police officers.
“If law enforcement wants to be recognized, all they have to do is ask, the same way the community has asked,” Cohen said.
District 9 Supervisor David Campos said the police union raised the same arguments when he co-authored a resolution marking a day of remembrance for Mario Woods, a 26-year-old black man shot and killed by police in December 2015. The board approved making Woods’ birthday, July 22, a day of remembrance in the city, despite police union president Martin Halloran’s objections that such a move was “hurtful” to the families of law enforcement officers.
“We specifically rejected that false choice,” Campos said. “We take the loss of life of one of our citizens as seriously as we take the loss of life of one of our officers.”
District 11 Supervisor John Avalos, who sponsored the Nieto memorial resolution, said the purpose of the monument is to bring healing to the community, which has suffered a series of lost lives from police shootings in recent years.
“Regardless of how you feel about whether it was justified, we need to be able to mark that this is an experience people have in San Francisco,” Avalos said. “That's what this memorial is really about, to mark this time when we had these numerous tragedies that really tore apart our communities and our families.”
The city is facing at least four lawsuits for police shootings in the past two years, including the shooting deaths of Amilcar Perez Lopez in February 2015, Mario Woods in December 2015, Luis Demetrio Gongora Pat in April this year, and Jessica Williams in May.
The Nieto memorial has not yet been designed and must be approved by the city’s arts commissions before it can be installed at Bernal Heights Park, Avalos said.
Oscar Salinas, a member of the Justice for Alex Nieto coalition, celebrated the decision after the vote, saying the group fought for months to get a monument erected in honor of the fallen City College student.
“This means everything,” Salinas said. “But this is just the beginning. Parents and kids for generations can walk to that hill and talk about what happened to him.”