Maria Villalta: A permanent altar and memorial for Alex Nieto would be an act of restoration from the City

Refugio & Elvira work tirelessly to maintain a memorial to their son at the site of his killing.

My name is Maria Villalta, I was a friend of Alex Nieto and I am a member of the Justice and Love for Alex Nieto Coalition.

For two and a half years, Alex Nieto’s family has maintained a memorial and altar on Bernal Heights at the site of his killing. Refugio keeps the altar along with anonymous community members who leave offerings of love and respect towards Alex. On the 21st of every month the community joins Elvira and Refugio at the altar, in prayer and celebration of Alex’s life

Establishing a memorial altar at sites of tragedy is a sacred tradition of Latino communities with deep ancestral and spiritual roots. An altar is a sacred place for sacrifices and gifts offered up to God, Our Creator. It is a place to show love towards our deceased. Memorials are official forms of altars; an important part of everyday American culture. Memorials allow people to remember a deceased loved one, an important public figure, or event. The killing of Alex Nieto is now a historic event of the City that sparked a historic Latino social justice movement for love and justice over the senseless, avoidable and brutal killing of a young community member by the San Francisco Police Department.

As a San Francisco native I can tell you that many other native residents feel that Alex Nieto, a young, joyful, working class, student, and community organizer represents the spirit of the Latino Mission and Bernal Heights; a representation of the beautiful brown and black people that used to walk through these neighborhoods without questioning their safety or belonging to that land. The altar on the hill represents the ultimate sacrifice; a good life was lost at the hands of police. The brutal killing of Alex caused a lot of pain in our communities and we should be allowed to mourn and uplift our beloved dead.

In memory of Alex Nieto, I stand here side by side with the Nietos to demand that the Board of Supervisors issue a resolution for a permanent altar and memorial in his honor. To begin mending broken trust with the Nieto Family and their community, the very minimum the Mayor and Board of Supervisors could do is to provide the permits and resources to establish a permanent memorial for Alex Nieto on the hill. Have it be an act of restoration of all the trauma SFPD has caused the brown and black communities decade after decade. Let it be a protected space were we can safely grieve and be assured that any vandalism to the site will be prosecuted. I ask that the City and County of San Francisco also pay for this memorial as it paid for the bullets that killed Alex. A memorial could mark a new beginning in which deathly use of force by SFPD is the last resort and sanctity of life the first principle of its police force.

A permanent altar and memorial gives old school San Franciscans hope. Hope that the City we love and hold dearly to our hearts will attempt to restore our broken relationship and allow family, friends and the community to know about their past and design a better future together. According to Tyron Edwards, “Quiet and sincere sympathy is often the most welcome and efficient consolation to the afflicted.”

Supervisors of San Francisco, will you accept our invitation and support our demand to restore harm caused by this City to Alex Nieto, his family and our Latino community?

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