To SF Mag: We request a public apology and retraction of article by Eskenazi

On March 26th, Adriana Camarena, coalition member, sent the following letter by email to Mr. Joe Eskenazi (jeskenazi@modernluxury.com) with copy to San Francisco Magazine’s (SF Mag) letters email box (letterssf@sanfranmag.com) in response to Eskenazi’s article titled “Alex Nieto Was Not Killed by Gentrification-It Was Worse Than That.”

Today, March 28th, we have sent a copy to the Jon Steinberg, Editor-in-Chief of SF Mag jsteinberg@modernluxury.com requesting a public apology and retraction of the article. Copy also to Twitter handles: @sanfranmag @EskSF and @jonsteinberg31

Email Letter to Mr. Joe Eskenazi, Subject: On your SF mag piece about Alex Nieto

Hi Mr. Eskenazi,

I am writing in response to your article titled “Alex Nieto Was Not Killed by Gentrification-It Was Worse Than That.”

Your article is by its own terms a reactionary response to the phrase “death by gentrification” used [in the title of the article written] by Rebecca Solnit**, and not actually about the facts of the case of the shooting of Alex Nieto by four SFPD officers on March 21, 2014. The facts relevant to the shooting (as both parties saw them) were clearly presented at the trial of Refugio and Elvira Nieto v Ofcs Richard Schiff, Jason Sawyer, Roger Morse, and Nate Chew and the City & County of San Francisco for the civil rights violations of their son Alex. The Trial took place from March 1-10th, nearly two years after his death, and if you had been journalistically inclined to do so, you could have attended and heard the facts for yourself. I mention this because the second phrase in the title of your article “…-It Was Worse Than That” leads into a series of claims about Alex Nieto’s mental health as central to an understanding of this case, when those facts were deemed irrelevant.

Had you been at trial or following the case at all or really cared about Alex’s “unnecessary death” to use your own words, you would know that Alex Nieto’s mental health records were not discussed at all at the Trial because in pre-trial hearings after considering arguments from both parties, federal civil Judge Cousins decided that those records were *not* relevant to the shooting, and could be highly prejudicial to the jury in looking at the facts. In other words, the record you mention in your article from years back could unnecessarily taint the jury’s opinion of the victim, rather than focus on the facts relevant to the shooting, which remains the matter at hand.

Because you claim to be a journalist, it behooves you to understand why those facts were not relevant, and I believe you should have attempted this before writing about Alex’s mental health with such certainty. Had you had the journalistic integrity to research and question your sources, you would have realized that you basically quoted from the police narrative of events fed by SFPD and the City officials to the media after Alex’s death, then again after the Medical Examiner report was issued 5 months later, then after the D.A. decided not to criminally charge the officers, then after the court ordered the names of the officers involved to be revealed 9 months later, and then after SFPD cleared its officers of committing murder. The narrative propagated by police sought from the start to drill into the public imagination that Alex Nieto was a person worth killing. We often refer to this technique used by police department spokespeople after an office-involved shooting as “character assassination” of the victim. Clearly, it worked on you.

The police narrative* version of Alex Nieto has and will always be a contested version. The narrative that you choose to propagate is the police version of who was Alex Nieto based on a mental health crisis in his life. The mental health record from 2011 was not deemed relevant to the shooting and not allowed into evidence, because 3 years had passed in which the crisis transpired without further incident. In regards to his mental health, it would be most relevant to ask who was Alex Nieto to people who knew him well or on a daily basis since he received treatment in 2011. In that case, you could have chosen to ask his employers, friends, his supervisor while he was a juvenile probation officer intern, his parents, his girlfriend, and community advocates who knew him and his conduct in the years after that oft quoted mental health incident by police. But in any case, those opinions like the 2011 mental health record were not relevant to the shooting either because police responding to the hill that day had no idea who was the man described in the dispatch call.

But here is a fact on record: No threat was ever reported in the 911 Call. The 911 caller Justin Fritz testified that he never saw Alex Nieto doing anything threatening, neither did his partner Tim Isgitt. Isgitt was concerned and anxious about a guy who they thought had a gun at his hip, but who in the words of Fritz was only eating sunflower seeds or chips. Robin Bullard who was the last to walk past him before he was killed testified that Alex did not seem threatening to him, he was even curious about the weapon at his hip, but in the end, Bullard described him as “just a guy.” The eyewitness to the shooting Antonio Theodore said Alex was casually walking down the hill, unaware police were looking for him, and that when they encountered him he had his hands in his pockets before he was gunned down. But you do know many of these facts, because I’m repeating things already covered in Rebecca Solnit’s article.

In the end, I have to conclude that you wrote this article as a die-hard defender of gentrification, going so far as attacking a world renown literary writer and journalist by piggie-backing on her piece and opinion on a local police brutality case in the context of a housing crisis in the City. Rather than actually doing research yourself, you question Rebecca Solnit’s journalistic integrity without reason and should be sued for libel. All her facts about the case are 100% correct. I should know this, since I was at the trial everyday sitting next to the parents of Alex Nieto, and followed his case since the day he died til today. I helped found the Justice & Love for Alex Nieto Coalition in the days after his shooting.

SF magazine invited me to be part of their December 2015 Pro-Activists photoshoot, except that as schedules moved around and dates changed I was finally not able to participate because work travel came up. I believe SF mag was originally interested in my community advocacy work both around housing activism and police brutality. I now feel fortunate that I did not participate given that your mag is willing to print such a badly researched, knee jerk reactionary article.

Overall, your attitude about the police killing of Alex Nieto sucks. Rather than dissuade us from the argument that this was not death by gentrification, I would say that you have perfectly captured the spirit of the despised gentrifier who justifies the expulsion of a native resident by any means necessary. If as a journalist, you really want us to believe that gentrifiers get a bad rap, then attempt to see the other side and understand exactly how newcomers employed in the tech world contributed to his killing. Shame on you Mr. Ezenkazi. While you claim that the mentally ill should not be criminalized*, your coverage of the Alex Nieto shooting makes a case for the opposite because you call in as fact that which was deemed irrelevant by a court of law. Moreover, you give credit to the police version of events entirely without actually considering that their narrative is biased. You made no attempt to research the alternative evidence produced at trial. You go on to say that officers who kill people with mental illness get medals as if that is proof that they acted justifiably. That alone tells me how clueless you are about the extent to which police departments and police unions will go to cover murder committed on the job by fellow officers. To them, you just became a darling. To us, you just became their dunce.

I think you owe an apology to Rebecca Solnit for attacking her journalistic integrity. But most importantly, you should apologize to Alex’s family and his community who you so callously disregard in tainting the memory of Alex Nieto by repeating the character assassination based* used as part of the biased police narrative.

Alex Nieto is not here to defend nor explain himself, but his community will stand up for him, because many other black and brown community members know what it is like to be unjustly racially (and mentally) profiled by newcomers, police officers, and journalists, and many other white (including newcomer) community members know how important it is to stand by them. It is in that spirit that I write this response, because without accountability by those who causes us harm, there cannot be restoration of community relations. And community relations is what is at stake after the death of Alex Nieto, as well as after the many no-fault evictions and police brutality incidents and deportations before and after his death.

In case there is any doubt, journalistically speaking, I am suggesting you apologize and clarify in your article that the mental health record you based your entire narrative on was not deemed relevant to the shooting.

Sincerely,
Adriana Camarena

*denotes: typo corrected or strikethrough edit added for readability, otherwise same letter
** Rebecca Solnit, Death by gentrification: the killing that shamed San Francisco, March 21st,2016, The Guardian.  The title of the article “Death by gentrification-…” was chosen by the editors of The Guardian and not language actually used by the author Rebecca Solnit. Originally the letter said “in the article written by Rebecca Solnit.”

What’s the next step towards ending police impunity?

We invite you to learn about our most recent demands for a permanent memorial for Alex Nieto, a package of legislative reforms, and follow up on a federal investigation requested by the Board of Supervisors of the City. Our demands for legal reform have support from a wide berth of community organizations, and Supervisor Avalos and Campos have agreed to present our demands to the Board of Supervisors. Click here to learn more! On Second Anniversary of Alex’s Killing, Coalition Presents Demands to End Police Impunity.

COMMUNITY DEMANDS TO END POLICE IMPUNITY

Today on the 2nd Anniversary of Alex Nieto’s killing by SFPD officers, we issue the following:

COMMUNITY DEMANDS TO END SFPD IMPUNITY

On Thursday March 10th, 2016, a majority white suburban jury delivered a verdict in the public trial of the Nieto Family v SFPD that not only stunned our communities, but underscored the history of police impunity that exists in this City.

The jury found that Sergeant Jason Sawyer and Officers Richard Schiff, Roger Morse and Nate Chew did not use excessive force in killing Alex Nieto on March 21st, 2014 in Bernal Heights Park, nearly two years ago when they shot at him 59 times. The trial was widely covered in the media and a factual record of the evidence is publicly available. Put quite simply, based on the facts discovered, we find the police version of events impossible to believe.

The parents of Alex Nieto, in the deepest recesses of grief and sorrow having had to relive their son’s death, and having had to view the photos showing his shot and broken body, and sit near the four officers who shot him to death, now had to absorb that in this court there would be no justice.

The lack of consequence for the officers who killed Alex Nieto sends a strong message to our youth that their lives don’t matter. It has reinforced a lack of confidence in the institutions of the City and County of San Francisco.

On this March 21, 2016, the second anniversary of Alex Nieto having been killed by SFPD officers, we are making the following demands to the City and County of San Francisco, and asking the Board of Supervisors to act upon the following demands:

  • Establish a permanent memorial at the site where Alex Nieto was killed in Bernal Heights Park, where community members have maintained a memorial for two years, as a minimal gesture towards restoring relations.
  • Modify the SFPD Department General Order to make alternatives to lethal use of force unequivocally mandatory.
  • Radically increase transparency of the SFPD by requiring public and online permanent record keeping of complaints and incidents of use of force by officers, according to best open government practices.
  • Establish a Special Prosecutor’s Office that is a true and autonomous investigative and prosecutorial body in cases involving police misconduct including officer involved shootings.
  • Require peer review processes in the Office of Medical Examiner when facing an officer involved shooting.

We also ask the Board of Supervisors to follow up on the January 26, 2016 BOS resolution requesting a federal investigation into the police killings of Alex Nieto, Amilcar Perez Lopez, and Mario Woods, by taking steps to:

  • Establish an action plan with the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division to enforce said Resolution, and
  • Request that the DOJ Civil Rights Division, as regards the killing of Alex Nieto, also investigate the handling of the case and evidence by all relevant city officials and city contractors and consultants involved, namely but not limited to the San Francisco Police Department (its Chief of Police, homicide investigators, crime scene investigators, firearms experts, and any other officers involved in securing, preparing or handling evidence), the Office of the District Attorney, the Office of the City Attorney, the Office of the Medical Examiner, Taser International, and Precision Simulations.

Alex Nieto’s death will not be in vain.

IRideWNietos Final 8x11 ToEnd Police Impunity_001

HOW TO STAY IN TOUCH WITH OUR CAMPAIGN:

ENDORSE OUR COMMUNITY DEMANDS!

We ask that community members and organizations endorse our demands.

  • Write and call your supervisors to demand action!
  • If you are community organization or group, we also request that you send an email to info@justice4alexnieto.org expressing your interest to be included in collective actions.

WHAT WILL WE ACHIEVE?

Act towards restoring community relations with a permanent memorial to Alex Nieto on Bernal Heights Park AND strike at the heart of police impunity with legal and institutional reform that will:

  • Close regulatory loopholes that impede accountability for police misconduct
  • Increase the transparency of police officer conduct in our communities
  • Create a new and autonomous Special Prosecutor to investigate and prosecute police misconduct, including officer involved shootings
  • Insist on a federal civil rights investigation into the police killings of Alex Nieto, Amilcar Perez Lopez, and Mario Woods
  • Ask for a federal investigation into tampering of evidence by City Officials in the Alex Nieto case

ALEX NIETO’S DEATH WILL NOT BE IN VAIN.

Dear Privileged People…

https://todobododown.wordpress.com/2016/03/11/a-letter-to-privileged-people/

 

My Dear Privileged People,

Know who you are.

Know who Alex Nieto was:

Alex Nieto was a beloved son, college student, community volunteer activist, and a full-time security guard. On March 21, 2014, at Bernal Heights Park in San Francisco, privileged people called the police on Alex Nieto even though he had done absolutely nothing illegal and he had never even looked at them. When San Francisco Police Officers arrived to the hill, they shot at Alex 59 times. He did not survive 14 or more fatal injuries, immediately mortal wounds to his temple, spine, lungs, and chest and other wounds to his leg, wrist, shoulders, forearm, and hand. The police claimed he pulled a taser out on them, even though Alex had never been arrested in his life, and he had less than two hours before his work-shift as a security guard. Rookie officer Schiff claims that when he saw Alex Nieto walk down the hill, he looked into Alex Nieto’s eyes and saw his anger. He saw Alex’s forehead scrunch up in hate. Police officers claim Alex then pulled out his taser and tracked them with the taser’s red laser beam. Police officers assert Alex Nieto never had his hands in his pockets and that he performed a quick-draw-McGraw move on them, and throughout the encounter, Alex Nieto, even though he is being shot at and being fatally struck, that he continues to hold the taser in his hands, jumps into a military tactical prone position, and maintains menacingly pointing his non-lethal taser at police officers, even though he is shot in his wrist, hand, and forearm.

The original pool of approximately 30 jurors was at least 90 percent white. 10 of them knew police officers or were relatives of police officers. One white female potential juror was the wife of a San Francisco Police officer and desperately wanted to be on the jury. She said she would be impartial in the case. One white man wore a “Border Patrol” baseball cap. At least five of the potential white male jurors declared in open court that they would favor the police. The potential jurors were asked if any of them had ever had any negative experiences with law enforcement. One white lady juror almost started crying as she relayed how once she had passed by an accident and began to honk at the driver in front of her. A police officer told her to stop, roll down her window, and began yelling at her. She remembers that she cried for days and felt humiliated. She was the only potential juror to have claimed any negative interaction with police.

The final chosen jury consisted of five white women, two Indian (?) jurors, and one white/Asian (?) male. One of these white women claimed she did not know why anyone would sue the police for monetary damages. There were no Latino or African Americans on the jury.

The evidence undeniably proved the following:

  • A witness who saw the police kill Alex claims that Alex was casually walking down the hill with his hands in his pockets when police officers yelled “Stop” at Alex and then immediately began firing two volleys of shots at him, killing him.
  • Four witnesses claim that they heard the police shots fired and clearly distinguished two volleys, one volley and then a ten second pause followed by one more longer and intense volley of bullets.
  • This pause would clearly indicate that the killing of Alex Nieto was a murder. The police officers could not have been under a constant threat as they claim if they waited ten seconds in between volleys and then continued firing again.
  • Alex Nieto was wearing a baseball hat and sunglasses when he was killed. This was confirmed by a large hole defect in the hat that aligned with the shot in Alex’s head. Alex’s brain matter was found in the hat. This proves that rookie Officer Schiff was lying when he stated that he looked into Alex Nieto’s angry eyes and saw his forehead scrunch up.
  • When the criminal investigators arrived after the killing and took pictures of the scene, the taser was turned off. There is absolutely no way that this taser could have emitted a red laser beam or ejected taser wires. The police officers are clearly lying about the red laser beam.
  • Alex Nieto sustains all the fatal wounds described above, including shots to his head, lungs, spine, wrist, and forearm. It could simply not be possible that Alex Nieto could have continued to hold a taser in this condition. There are no pictures of Alex holding any taser or of him with his hands and arms extended downhill.
  • Most importantly, most convincingly, ALEX NIETO’S WRIST BONE IS FOUND IN HIS LEFT JACKET POCKET. There is absolutely no explanation for how that bone could have been in his jacket except, as the first-hand witness claims, Alex Nieto’s hand was in his pocket, not pointing a taser, while Alex Nieto was being killed by the police. This, of course, totally refutes the police narrative.
  • And if you still have questions about the case, visit the following site for accurate information: https://todobododown.wordpress.com/2016/03/10/the-trial-alex-nieto-versus-the-sfpd-closing-arguments-community-creativity-victory/

 

The jury decided against Alex Nieto and for the San Francisco Police Officers.

We, the people, did not lose.

Education lost: your fairy tale books about the way intelligence works were proven to be a farce. We argued better than you, with stronger evidence and more compelling logic. Does the stupidity of the verdict answer to you why we refuse to value your schools and teachers and puppet administrators?

We, the people, did not lose.

Your justice system lost: your sham is simply a tool to make-believe everything is fair and just and that we should accept your verdict like good players in a fixed game, where the odds are totally stacked against us.

We, the people, did not lose.

Your morality lost: you, with your white smile and perfect teeth, you were proven to be cowards who could not stand up for the right principle, for a real human being who was unlawfully killed. You feared going back to your villas in Clayton and Danville and telling your friends and family that you voted for a brown person and not the white, clean-cut poster officers.

We, the people, did not lose.

Your United States of America Constitution lost. It lost. You lost. Your lie of equality and freedom lost.

And it is only your naked conscience now that remains, your own personal empty humanity, stripped of predilections, fantasies, and superior justifications. Now, standing there exposed in your own soul, how will you respond?

If you are offended, it is not my fault. You made up the rules.

If you are challenged, it is your chance to do right and spread the news. Fight your father, your uncle, your sister, your privileged community.

We, the people, did not lose, for we continue with the truth, la pura neta: not forward, but upward, we march, we fly.

ALWAYS AND FOREVER AMOR FOR ALEX NIETO!

Benjamin Bac Sierra, M.A., J.D., USMC, SFM

 

Post verdict 1

Words from a Justice4AlexNieto supporter to a retraumatized community

When Alex Nieto was killed by police on March 21st, 2014 an entire community was traumatized by the extreme violence committed by four officers to end the life of a bright young man and community member. Though I barely knew Alex, I placed myself, my skills, at the service of two humble hardworking Mexican immigrant parents who faced immense cultural, language, technical, and power barriers to confront the state and media machine they took on when they opted to file a complaint against the City. Back then, we did not believe SFPD version of events, and now after the trial, we have the facts that make the officers’ version simply preposterous.

The facts are that the officers ignored duties and alternative responses established in policy, shot 59 bullets at Alex in two distinct sets of volleys, shot most of those bullets after Alex was shot to the ground already mortally wounded, that Alex Nieto had his hands in his pockets and never threatened officers, that the Rookie cop Schiff overreacted on ordering Alex to show his hands and started shooting, and so his superior Sergeant Sawyer covered his rookie ass by executing Alex. Sawyers’ bullet was found in Alex’s temple, and by his own testimony he put that bullet in Alex on purpose. A total of 43 bullets were fired just by these two officers. There is also damning evidence that the crime scene and other documents were tampered with by officials from the D.A.’s office, Medical Examiner, homicide investigation team, CSI, and other authorities investigating his homicide.

When the majority white conservative suburban jury returned on March 10th with a verdict stating that SFPD’s Sawyer, Schiff, Chew and Morse did not use excessive force in killing Alex, we were retraumatized as a community alongside the Nietos. Like myself, perhaps you are feeling at times angry then depressed then relieved that this trial stage is over and that we can now move on towards strategic policy actions, but then back to feeling numbness, frustration, denial, acceptance, responsibility, or even a need to immediately react and spur into action. Statistically, the verdict in favor of police was the expected result when filing a case against police misconduct, but when the evidence presented at trial clearly negated SFPD’s narrative, it was inevitable that we felt hopeful. We are a community retraumatized by this jury decision and by the reminder that we live in a racially biased society that protects police departments from accountability. We live in a society that is afraid to acknowledge that police departments abuse their right to use of force, and do so disproportionately towards people of color.

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One of the most important changes in my path being involved in the Alex Nieto case has been to learn more about restorative practices, because as someone trained in legal systems, I know that ultimately even with a jury decision in our favor, the pain and fear that we are not safe from police in our communities will not go away until there is personal accountability by those who harm us. This is why, even as odd as it was, the apology offered by the 911 caller Justin Fritz to Elvira and Refugio Nieto was important. It should put those four officers to shame that it was another community member who ultimately took responsibility for their actions. But Fritz’s apology, and for that matter the verdict, do not excuse Sawyer’s, Schiff’s, Morse’s, and Chew’s moral duty to make amends to the Nietos and to us for taking Alex’s life away. They created harm.

Many families who suffer violence will never be fully restored because our legal systems get in the way of the process of true accountability, and hence, creating healing environments. So, we need to search for alternatives. In a restorative spirit and addressing a retraumatized community, I want to claim a tremendous victory from the trial. The trial revealed the facts that we needed to be aired about how these four officers abused their power.

The complaint forced the City to reveal the names of the officers involved after 9 months of keeping them sealed and forced the City to hand over evidence. The court also barred the City from attacking Alex’s character with irrelevant information. Nonetheless, the City attempted to have this case dismissed twice in court, and twice the judge said that there were sufficient facts for a jury to find in our favor. Hold on to those facts, because in a fairer society with a jury composed of our true peers, SFPD never had a chance in court. Elvira said that when her son was first delivered to her she knew nothing about the circumstances of his death, but knowing what happened that day is now a victory onto itself. By that she means, and I mean, and I believe many of you who followed this case know that we blew the cover off the SFPD cover up.

We now have a solid record of SFPD abuse in the death of Alex Nieto. Over the next few days we will provide more hard facts on our website from the case and trial to set the foundations for a next stage in the struggle against police impunity. We will move forward, or as Ben Bac Sierra says, upward, from here. We will create our own justice. We will not let the homicide of Alex Nieto go forgotten, nor the excessive violence of police to go unchecked. Together we will do this.

From a restorative point of view, facts can also help heal community trauma. Elvira and Refugio and all of us who suffered from Alex’s killing at least now know what happened that day. We can stop looping through imagined scenarios that trauma demands us to create in order to explain the unacceptable killing of Alex Nieto. Yesterday Refugio spoke out in astonishment and anger that with the facts pointing against the defendants that the jury chose to believe the police. He can speak now with the certainty of a factual record on his side, when he says that police behaved abusively.

We are checking in with the Nietos about what they need but we also want you to take care of yourselves and each other. Grief is ok, but trauma is not good, because it puts us all in a continuous disadvantage to those who do not suffer violence. Hang in there. We will rebound. We will regroup and we will defeat the oppressive circumstances faced by our communities of color because we will create new circumstances for ourselves. In every end, there is always a beginning. Cry, laugh, be angry, be afraid, be numb, be active. It is all good. Be aware how you are affected, learn more about the facts, and imagine new strategies and tactics to end police impunity.

The strength of our Coalition has been our diversity. You all have a place and voice here. Our victory as the Nietos said yesterday is that we are still together. Each contribution made along the way by each of you, whether small or large, has made for a mounting movement. Amor por Alex. Heal and regroup. Alex Nieto’s death will not be in vain. We will fulfill his dream to help our younger generations. I know our incredibly talented and smart younger generations are paying attention and will let us know how they want to be helped.

Yo, youth! We’re listening. We’ve got your back. We need you. We want you to be safe. We want you to thrive. We’re here for you.

More soon… March 21st is coming, the second year anniversary of Alex Nieto being killed by police.

Adriana Camarena

#AmorPorAlex
#IRideWithTheNietos
#EndPoliceImpunity

[original version posted on faceebook March 11, 2015; edited]