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

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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.

4 thoughts on “To SF Mag: We request a public apology and retraction of article by Eskenazi

  1. Thank you for writing this; Rebecca Solnit’s article in THE GUARDIAN – a far superior publication than SF Mag – was superlative: it is one of the very best on the murder of Alex Nieto. My heart hurts when I think of Alex and his family – and for all of those murdered by police but Alex has a place in my psyche I cannot define.

    And, I try not to think of the cruel place San Francisco has become; four years ago, after 35 years living on Guerrero St. as a single parent, writer and union activist, I was forced out of my building.

    Thanks again for all that you do.

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  2. Honestly I find this letter, Joe’s article and Rebecca Solnit’s article problematic and unproductive. . . The nation is divided – there are giant difference of opinion about where we want to be as a nation and how to get there. San Francisco thought leaders seem to be painting this same level of dissonance in a our city where largely the end goals are shared. I continue to be frustrated with Solnit’s coverage of gentrification – calling tech workers German tourists and suggesting SF used to be a place that welcomed others – she is a leading voice in the the anti-other conversation. San Francisco is like every other major City – experiencing a major influx of new wealthy residents. This does NOT have to be a bad thing – but it also can be a bad thing. If the city emerges with an us versus them perspective, it will end in a loss of important parts of SF culture. If the progressives and thought leaders and bend there minds towards and more productive and welcoming, but empowered perspective – there can be more of “yes, and” negotiation over city resources, social norms and city culture. Yes you can come be a part of our city, and one thing we as a city value is diversity and empowerment based on a non-capital merit system and therefore we expect you tech workers, developers, refugees from the suburbs, to come with the open mind that brought you here. And we will approach you with an open mind and make room for you.

    Alex was a victim, I don’t know the facts as well as any of the authors, but a state shooting of a citizen is plainly wrong. Tazer, no tazer, mentally ill, or not, threatening behavior or not, this is an untenable state response to most any situation caused by most anything.

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    • This letter clarifies the facts, so does Solnit’s article, but the SFMag article does not. We don’t expect followers of this case to accept opinions, but we do ask that readers learn the facts. The page Alex’s Story is a good place to start, followed by the Trial, and our most recent demands for legal reform to #EndPoliceImpunity. Thank you.

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