Almost five years after Alex Nieto was shot and killed by San Francisco police officers on top of Bernal Hill, a public memorial to mark the spot where the 28-year old took his last breath is on track to gain final city approval this month.
Police shot Nieto, who was attending City College of San Francisco and working as a security guard at the time of his death, after he allegedly pointed what they believed to be a gun at them. The item in his hand was later determined to be a Taser.
The shooting shocked and angered many community members, but a federal jury exonerated the four officers involved in 2016.
That same year, The City’s Board of Supervisors voted to support a memorial over the objections of the San Francisco Police Officers Association. Because the hilltop memorial falls under the jurisdiction of the San Francisco Recreation and Park, final approval was contingent on a vote by the department.
On Thursday, Rec and Park commissioners on the Operations Committee voted to support the memorial’s design, placement and the language on a plaque that will accompany it. A final vote on the memorial was placed on the consent calendar for a full commission hearing scheduled on April 18, indicating that the plans will likely be approved.
“There was an amazing, compassionate collaborative group that came out,” said Commissioner Kat Anderson, adding that it was a “no brainer” to support the community.
The memorial consists of a concrete podium with artwork on metal panels by local artists set into the four podium surfaces, set within a “Medicine Wheel” — a 12-foot diameter circle that symbolizes healing and unity.
According to documents filed with the department, the plaque will include Nieto’s first and last name, dates of birth and death and the following inscription:
“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 called the planned memorial “one of the most important contemporary art pieces to recognize …the epidemic of unwarranted police violence against Latino and African American men and women in this country.”
“It not only pays tribute to a beloved member of our community, but is part of a movement for police accountability,” said Ronen.
Ben Bac Sierra, an author, community advocate and CCSF professor who knew Nieto closely, said that the messaging on the plaque had previously drawn concerns form Rec and Parks.
“They thought it was controversial. They wanted to send it up to the full commission, so we didn’t expect to get approved yesterday,” said Bac Sierra, who called the committee’s vote a “victory.”
“[Bernal Hill] is the last place where Alex had peace — it’s going to be a place for field trips, for community, creativity, art, inspiration , mediation, poetry,” he said. “Alex Nieto is both the movement and the curriculum — as far as combating police brutality, violence and killings — at this place, this memorial.”
Following final approval later this month, advocates organized as the group “Amor for Alex” who have raised over $50,000 from the community to construct the memorial will be able to begin the permitting process. Bac Sierra said that the group expects construction to break ground in June, and finish by September.