Grief, Anger at Memorial Vigil for Alejandro Nieto on Bernal Hill



There is still much to learn about what happened to Neighbor Alejandro Nieto, the 28 year-old man who was shot and killed by SFPD officers on Bernal Hill Friday night. But there are some things we already know: Alejandro’s death was a tragedy, and the grief his family and friends feel right now runs very deep.

These photos were taken yesterday during the memorial vigil for Neighbor Alejandro that took place on the spot where he died. (You can read more about the vigil at MissionLocal The Examiner and ABC7)

According to some neighbors who attended, the incident has also unleashed a wave of anger directed not just at the circumstances surrounding Alejandro’s death, and the SFPD, but also at the socio-economic changes taking place in Bernal Heights, and an entire generation of new Bernal neighbors who have moved here in recent years.

This is a raw and sensitive moment. It is also an opportunity for us to properly honor the memory of Neighbor Alejandro Nieto by coming together to support our neighbors who are in pain, to ensure that all the facts surrounding this incident are revealed, and to strengthen the bonds that unite us as a neighborhood.

Finally, a reminder: The SFPD “Town Hall” meeting about this incident happens tonight at 6 pm at Leonard Flynn School on Cesar Chavez and Harrison, near Precita Park.

VIGIL PHOTOS: Courtesy of a Bernal neighbor

36 thoughts on “Grief, Anger at Memorial Vigil for Alejandro Nieto on Bernal Hill

  1. Normally I wouldn’t comment on this kind of story, but I can’t let it pass without reminding people that by all accounts the police are being unfairly blamed. Many witnesses said he had a gun. Someone called 911 because he had a gun. Then he turns and aims the gun at officers. The police shot in self-defense, and the gun he held was found by his side after he died.

    WHAT’S WRONG WITH FOLKS who can’t see this? The police have an extremely tough job. They don’t want to shoot people, especially given all the hours of paperwork they have to fill out and the questions they have to answer over ANY discharge of a weapon.

    But PLEASE cut the cops some slack here. There was nothing else they could have done under the circumstance. To make the gunman a hero and the police villains IS JUST PLAIN WRONG.

    • David, maybe you should have stuck with your initial instinct and not commented.

      To say they don’t want to shoot someone because of paperwork is just foolish.

      If it is true that the victim did not have a gun, then at minimum a mistake in a split-second judgement was made, maybe there are justifiable reasons for it but in my opinion the police could have done a better job. A good outcome of deescalating the situation would have been preferable to escalating the confrontation.

    • I disagree that we should not focus our attention on the police; we can and we should. We can conclude that it would be better if the police had deescalated the situation and not killed the guy. The fact is they are trained professionals, and if they are killing people who are not objective threats (a stun gun, in hindsight, is not an objective threat) than they need better training or we need to hire better professionals. I know it’s in hindsight, so I’m not saying these police are guilty of murder (yet) but the fact remains that a young man is dead and the world would be a better place if he wasn’t dead. Let’s hire and train a police force that does everything possible to avoid that result.

    • They killed a guy whom it turned out did not have a gun. We have only their word that he pulled the taser. Based on my experiences with cops over the years, that word isn’t worth a damn. A few years back, you pull a gun and they talked you down.

      Not anymore. Now they shot you on the spot if they feel the slightest danger. Especially if you’re not white.

      Your comment about the paperwork was mildly revolting.

      • My comment about the paperwork happens to be TRUE. You see cops as trigger-happy. I’m saying that the LAST thing they want to do is draw a gun, if for no other reason than the fact that they have to fill out paperwork, will likely be put on suspension until the case is investigated, etc. Cops would PREFER to “talk down” a suspect, but it is UNREASONABLE to think that the cops in this case should have talked down the guy. HE AIMED A WEAPON at the cops!

        USE YOUR HEAD, MAN! What you’re saying is patently STUPID. The 911 dispatcher had been told the guy had a gun. The people who talked with the cops on the scene said he had a gun. When holstered his taser LOOKED like a gun, and it was at night, so it’s likely that the small yellow part of the gun was impossible to see.

        WERE YOU the guy who yelled, “I hope you die” to chief Suhr? You probably were. Whoever yelled that remark should have been ARRESTED for threatening a cop. There is NO PLACE in a public forum for such an outburst.

        You should be ashamed of yourself.

  2. >>According to some neighbors who attended, the incident has also unleashed a wave of anger directed not just at the circumstances surrounding Alejandro’s death, and the SFPD, but also at the socio-economic changes taking place in Bernal Heights, and an entire generation of new Bernal neighbors who have moved here in recent years.<<

    Yes, clearly, The Evil Gentrifiers are to blame for all the ills of the neighborhood, including mental illness, police overreaction, and unrestrained dogs.

    I am goring VERY TIRED of this.

    • Sadly this blame the Evil Gentrifiers is nothing new; I moved here from Dogpatch in 2001 and remember the same thing being said over and over. Also, keep in mind that our local Bernal Journal is published by the same organization that is a development company, building “low income” housing paid for by the city. So of course they want to keep any development out except their own.

      • You hit it right on the head. The Bernal Journal thinks it is normal to have nothing but public housing projects being built even though most of the crime in BH come from them & the many SROs in the area.

  3. This is a very sad event indeed. I offer a tiny bit more info that might be relevant. At 5:15 Friday my neighbor texted me to say she had just interrupted a guy who was urinating (or about to urinate) on my garage door. I thanked her and thought nothing more of it. We live on Andover just North of Cortland. My neighbor later saw a photo in the paper and is certain that the man who she stopped from urinating was Alex Nieto. Perhaps she is wrong. But maybe not. If she is correct, it might speak to his state of mind. IMHO, it is not normal behavior for guy to urinate on someone’s garage door in broad daylight, especially when there are countless bathrooms w/in a half-black of my house. Again, still a terribly sad event. I wonder what more was going on with Alex that day.

  4. Perhaps the actions of the police are debatable (I personally wish that they had done a better job of deescalating the situation and not killed the guy) but what is not debatable is the responsibility that should be placed on the shoulders of the dog owner. What was that dog doing off-leash in the first place? Dog owners need to realize that their nice, friendly, happy dogs can seriously surprise/scare/frighten/unhinge people. The guy is eating dinner and gets surprised by the dog and flips out. Frankly, I’d flip out too if an unleashed dog surprised me on Bernal Hill; too many of those dogs are large and dangerous-looking and it is not uncommon to hear of them biting people and/or dogs. If the dog was on a leash to begin with, this likely never would have happened and Alajandro would still be alive.

    • Bernal Hill park is designated as a dog play park, and dogs aren’t required to be on-leash. (Unlike Precita Park, which is considered an on-leash only park, although everyone ignores that.)

      • Good point about it being legal to have your dog unleashed in Bernal Park, but that doesn’t change the fact that the dog owner still needs to be in control of the dog. This dog obviously needed to be on a leash because the owner did not have control. Dogs should not be approaching people and startling them; their owners should be aware of who their dogs are interacting with and make sure they are not putting the dogs in situations that the owner cannot control.

  5. @Adam – really? Now you’re blaming the dog and his owner for the death of this man? I think that’s a huge and unreasonable stretch. And FYI: Bernal Heights Park is an off leash park – if being around unleashed dogs is an issue for you – or anyone – this is not the place to hang out and have dinner.

    • A priority of out-of-control dogs over human lives, is it now? Bernal Hill is the place for all Bernal citizens to hang out, first and foremost.

      • At no point did I say that I was prioritizing “out-of-control dogs over human lives.” I merely pointed out that the park is indeed a sanctioned off leash park, so if avoiding dogs is your goal, this probably isn’t the best place to hang out. It’s like me saying “I can’t stand to be around tourists,” then hanging out at Fisherman’s Wharf on a Saturday. What happened to Alex is a tragedy, but to blame a dog and/or his owner for the death of this young man, is a stretch. What if it had been an “out-of-control” toddler that ran up and scared him (which is just as likely to happen at Bernal Heights Park on any given day)? Would it have been okay for Alex to point a stun gun at the child? Would you expect that the parent would call 911 to complain about a man with a weapon in the park? If the situation played out the same, would you be pointing the finger at the kid and his parents? Unlikely. Bottom line is that unless we were there and literally witnessed this unfold from start to finish, we don’t know exactly what happened and have to rely on second hand information. I do hope there is an investigation into Alex’s death (not conducted by the SFPD) and more answers are provided. Until then, I will refrain from pointing the finger at anyone – it won’t change that a young man lost his life.

    • Of course I’m not blaming the dog and his owner for the death, but the dog owner needs to realize that his unleashed dog started the events that led to this death. The dog owner needs to take responsibility for the fact that his unleashed dog acted inappropriately and scared somebody, and that sometimes when that happens we can’t control the results. The dog owner should have had control of his dog, period — nobody can disagree with that. The fact is the dog owner did not have control of his dog in this situation and a young man is now dead. Had the dog owner had control of his dog it is entirely likely that this death would not have happened.

      • You’re not blaming the dog or the owner, yet you say, “Had the dog owner had control of his dog it is entirely likely that this death would not have happened.” Sounds like you are indeed pointing the finger at the dog owner.

        Many dog owners are oblivious and don’t follow the rules. No question there. But I just can’t jump to the conclusion that the dog and/or his owner are the reason this young man lost his life. Guess we’ll have to agree to disagree on this.

  6. I was saddened today when I read the Chronicle account provided by the dog owner himself of his dog approaching this young man, seated quietly eating fries. It was only after the young man lost control with regard to the dog, according to this man, did he act to get his dog away. Does this man take any responsibility for what he allowed?
    I’ve given up thinking that people with dogs understand that off-lead or poorly controlled behavior can and often enough has consequences.
    This time, we have a real heart-breaker.
    My condolences to Alejandro’s family and those close to him.

  7. If blaming the dogs for what’s happened here is what it takes for y’all to stop blaming recent arrivals for every godd@mned thing around here, then let’s round up all the dogs and herd them over to Potrero or the Mission or Noe or some other place.

    • The dog wasn’t mentioned as a cause at the community meeting tonight. But the evil tech and white gentrifiers were mentioned over and over. Of course, it was activists who don’t live in Bernal (most said they live or had lived in the Mission) who were making those statements. One neighbor who identified himself as living near Bernal Park was boo’ed by the crowd when he mention that crime had been on the increase in the neighborhood. It was very intimidating if you wanted to say something that wasn’t in step with the majority in the room.

  8. Adam, Eugenie…thank you for biting (so to speak) on the red herring. The Dog not only ate the homework, but also precipitated this calamity. I guess it gives you definition. Unfortunately, it’s probably a lot more complex than that with Alex and the police (over)reaction. I just feel saddened that we’ve now had both parks in the neighborhood diminished by an ugly death in the past year— (Holly Park in September)

    • It seems to me that the red herring is gentrification, which has now become the focus for so much anger and defensive reaction. All aspects of this a real tragedy, and yes, a second death in a Bernal park in just a few months.
      (There was a shooting death in Precita Park, perhaps a dozen years ago. There is a memorial sculpted from melted guns to remind us of that.)

  9. Reposting for content that was lost in quotation marks (Argh).

    I live (rent) in Bernal going on 15 years. I’m one of the people who is very concerned with the gentrification that is making SF unaffordable to most of us. The connection to this tragedy is the anger that people feel. To ignore that, will only widen the divide and create more anger.

    Bernal has always been an interesting place. Many of the folks who settled here when gentrification began in earnest in the 1970s were activists. Alejandro considered himself an activist. The fact that activist is used as a negative label in the comments above says a lot about why the recent arrivers are perceived differently in the wave of gentrification taking place now. Unlike their predecessors who respected and embraced the neighbors who came before them (keep in mind, there were tensions then too), the new wave of residents seem oblivious by choice as to their impact–their socio-economic footprint so to speak. When faced with a housing bubble that is pushing out longtime residents and any semblence of diversity (I mean all kinds of difference), they say Go live in the Bayshore if you can’t afford it here or There is nothing we can do about capitalist market forces. Those are close paraphrases of actual comments on Bernalwood. The early gentrifiers, on the other hand, founded BHNC and started developing non-profit housing (with private AND public funds btw) to keep affordable housing around. Has it worked perfectly? Nope. But still, quite a difference from how things are unfolding today.

    Low-income (heck, modest income) people feel pushed out of Bernal. Dime stores and barber shops close and boutiques open to sell us succulents and high priced pickles. Small cottages sell for $1 million. Renters are evicted and the reaction is uncaring. Non-profit housing organizations who provide homes to seniors and low-income families with children are vilified. (Don’t worry, BHNC can’t come close to competing with market prices.)

    Low-income and working class people–many of them people of color–are losing their homes and no longer feel welcome in their own community. Oh, and the police tend to shoot at them in situations that play out very differently when the perpetrator is white. The connection may not be logical, but it is understandable. Anger.

    Recently one of my artist friends who moved out of San Francisco to Oakland sent me an article, 20 Ways Not to Be a Gentrifier in Oakland. I am not sure if this link will come through on this post, so you can google it. Danette Lambert hits the nail on the head IMO: What people don’t seem to realize is it isn’t the mere act of moving into a neighborhood that makes you a gentrifier; it’s what you do once you get there.

    Disclosure: I’m white. I can afford to rent here because I make a decent salary at a non-profit organization, have no children or a car, and I have a landlord with a soul. I knew Alejandro when he was a teenager involved at BHNC. He was a really nice young man. I am so sorry for his family and friends who mourn his loss. I am trying hard not to blame the police before all the facts are revealed, but it does seem that they overreacted and escalated the situation to the point of tragedy. I suspect skin color and socio-economic profiling had a hand in it.

    • You are correct that I used the term Activist too loosely. I should have said, “Anti-government/Anti-capitalist Activist” trying to leverage this tragedy to further their own agenda rather than help the community deal with the tragedy that occurred.

  10. If the full detailed facts of the case are not available, it is not appropriate to blame this young man for his own death. What is true: this young man was loved by many and his death is tragic. We should make sure this doesn’t happen again.
    Stop with the us vs. them rhetoric. There is no general cop hatred. It’s just that some (generally white middle class male) people have not been poorly treated by police, while others, including Blacks, Latinos, and left-wing political activists, are more likely to experience unjust, brutal police tactics. I am white and I do not trust cops particularly. I have witness them abusing nonwhites/street people/those without power, and I didn’t do anything for fear of being brutalized myself.

  11. Wasn’t it the owner of the dog who called the police and told them that Alex had a gun? That man clearly does have a share of the responsibility for what happened, in several regards:
    – not controlling the dog when the it annoys people
    – not coping with people who defend themselves against his dog and who show their anger at being attacked by his dog
    – then calling the police as though he had been the victim when clearly it was the person attacked by the dog (who had the decency not to call the police which of course he could have done so they sort out that dog owner)
    And finally, it would be interesting to know what exactly that man told the police, especially with regards to the stun gun.
    The police on the other hand should not just have believed whatever that man told them. I’m not saying they did, nor do I know what that man told them, but that’s precisely what needs to be clarified. They way police ended up handling the situation suggests that they went in there thinking that it was about a mad chicano wielding a gun.

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