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Public park memorial for Alex Nieto nears installation

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A memorial for Alex Nieto would feature a podium with four panels featuring work by local artists. One of the panels, pictured above, is designed by Josue Rojas and calls upon Nieto’s spirituality as a buddhist. (Courtesy SF Arts Commission)

A planned public park memorial for Alex Nieto, who was fatally shot by San Francisco police officers in March 2014, could become a reality by this summer.

The Arts Commission’s Visual Arts Committee unanimously approved the memorial design on Wednesday after hearing from Nieto’s parents and Supervisor Hillary Ronen, who represents the Mission and Bernal Heights neighborhoods.

The proposed memorial, which will be funded by a mix of public and private dollars, will be located near existing park benches on an access road about 150 feet from where Nieto was fatally shot by police officers in Bernal Heights Park.

The memorial was designed through a community process with the leadership of artist Josué Rojas and architect Armando Vasquez along with the sponsorship by the nonprofit Accion Latina SF.

The 27-year-old Nieto was a City College of San Francisco student and employed as a security guard at the time of his death. Officers fired upon him after they said he pointed what they thought was a gun at them. Nieto was later found to be carrying a stun gun.

Vasquez told the San Francisco Examiner Thursday that if all goes as planned, the memorial will be installed by this summer. The Arts Commission will vote next month on the design and it also needs approval by the Recreation and Parks Commission.

Renderings show a concrete podium about four feet high, four feet wide and two feet deep, with artwork on metal panels by local artists set into the four podium surfaces. The podium sits within a circle or Medicine Wheel with a 12-foot diameter that symbolizes healing and unity.

To see more details of the proposed memorial click here.

The artists include Oscar Aguilar, Francisco “Twick” Aquino, Josué Rojas and Lauren Avila. The podium is capped with a plaque that will have a laser cut image of Nieto and a view of San Francisco’s skyline from Bernal Hill. The plaque will include a hawk and a lotus as well as a yet to be determined poem.

“According to Refugio Nieto (Alex’s father) this hawk, which lives on Bernal Hill, was the witness to what happened with Alex and now watches over Bernal Hill,” said a description of the project provided to the commission. The lotus represents “Nieto’s journey in the pursuit of personal development, education, his humanity and his interest in Buddhism.”

“Alex Nieto was a beloved member of the Mission and Bernal community,” Ronen told the committee. She said that his death and the “fight for his family and friends to get justice for him” took on greater symbolism for the struggles of affordability and displacement “during a time of major change” in San Francisco.

Ronen said the “beautiful” memorial is “very deeply important to me and deeply important to the Mission and Bernal communities” and that it would memorialize the tragedy and also serve as a symbol of strength. She added that “it has been a four-year struggle to get to the place that we are.” In December 2016, the Board of Supervisors voted to support a memorial over the objections of the San Francisco Police Officers Association.

Speaking through a translator at Wednesday’s meeting, Refugio Nieto, who was joined by Nieto’s mother Elvira Nieto, said, “Alex Nieto was assassinated.”

He discussed the lawsuit filed against the San Francisco police officers who fatally shot his son and the seven-day trial in 2016, when a jury found the four officers not guilty of using excessive force.

“At the end, we did hear that we had a lot of good evidence in this case. But the reality is even with the bloody photos of my son, the jury still determined that it wasn’t enough to try these killer police officers,” he said through a translator.

He said that since the lawsuit wrapped up, they have been planning the memorial.

“Today, it feels like it will finally happen,” he said. “At this point we are very exhausted and we want to have closure with this.”

jsabatini@sfexaminer.com

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