Dozens of protesters marched through the Bronx and Harlem on March 21 to commemorate the life of Alex Nieto, two years from the day he was killed by San Francisco police.
“He was killed in San Francisco for eating a burrito in a park basically,” said Kim Ortiz, one of the organizers. “So today we highlighted that case, we spoke his name, we uplifted his name, and we made sure that everyone around knew who Alex Nieto was and what happened to him.”
Nieto was 28 years old when he was gunned down in 2014. He was eating a burrito in Bernal Hill park before police arrived in order to respond to calls they received about a Latino man with a gun. Nieto, who worked as a security guard at a local nightclub, was dressed in a red San Francisco 49ers jacket and had a taser he had been issued for his job in a holster under his coat. Although Nieto was a San Francisco native, the white men who called the cops on him were newcomers to the gentrifying neighborhood and described Nieto as a “probably foreign” man with a handgun. Shortly after arriving on the scene, police shot 59 bullets at Nieto, hitting him at least 14 times. The cops claim that Nieto had pointed his taser at them. Earlier this month, on March 10, a federal jury sided with the cops involved in Nieto’s death and ruled that they did not use excessive force.
In order to pay tribute to Nieto, New York City activist group NYC Shut It Down decided to dedicate one of their weekly #PeoplesMonday protests against police brutality to Nieto. They were joined by another group, ICE Free NYC, who helped organize the action, which focused on a theme of black and brown unity.
“Today was a great show of black and brown solidarity. Black Lives Matter is not just about black victims that have been killed by police brutality,” said Ortiz, who is a member of NYC Shut It Down. “Unfortunately, the numbers are disproportionate, so we highlight those cases. But we also recognize that Native lives are under attack. People of color, in general, are under attack, and oppressed people are under attack. So we have to make sure that we connect these struggles because without the connected struggles, we’ll never win.”
Protesters gathered at Brook Park in the Bronx at around 6 p.m. and enjoyed songs and poetry about Nieto, a bilingual Know Your Rights training, and a ceremonial performance by Cetiliztli Nauhcampa. Burritos were also served in remembrance of Nieto’s last meal.
“ICE Free NYC and NYC Shut It Down came together again to, first and foremost, do solidarity work,” said Adriana Escandon of ICE Free NYC. “We incorporated a Know Your Rights workshop so that the community from the Bronx would be able to come and really get some practical information that they can use with the police brutality they face everyday, and also with the ICE raids that have increased this year.”
After the rally in Brook Park, protesters began marching and quickly took the streets of the Bronx led by a banner that read “Black & Brown Power.” The marchers soon shut down traffic on the Willis Avenue Bridge, which connects the Bronx and Harlem, as a number of motorists honked their car horns in support.
“We started in the South Bronx in a Latino neighborhood, and we marched to Harlem, the black Mecca of the United States and New York City,” said Mike Bento of NYC Shut It Down. “So we were not only bridging and bringing together black and brown people to build unity, solidarity and resistance in our messaging, but doing so physically as well.”
The marchers then made their way to 125th Street in Harlem, shutting down traffic as they marched down the street. Multiple police vehicles showed up and began trailing the marchers. Police ordered them to disperse and get off the street, but those orders went unheeded. The protesters made it all the way to 116th Street without any arrests and ended the march.
Ultimately, the protesters said they hope to make Nieto a symbol of the oppression faced by black and brown people in this country and to use this tragedy to connect movements on both sides of the United States in the struggle to end this oppression.
“Ideally, he would still be alive today,” Bento said. “However, justice for Alex Nieto would be the end of white supremacy, the end of this racist system. And that’s what we’re going to keep building and organizing our communities for.”