Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Death by gentrification: the killing that shamed San Francisco

leave a comment »

Rebecca Solnit writes in the Guardian:

On 4 March, on what would have been his 30th birthday, Alejandro Nieto’s parents left a packed courtroom in San Francisco, shortly before pictures from their son’s autopsy were shown to a jury. The photographs showed what happens when 14 bullets rip through a person’s head and body. Refugio and Elvira Nieto spent much of the rest of the day sitting on a bench in the windowless hall of the federal building where their civil lawsuit for their son’s wrongful death was being heard.

Alex Nieto was 28 years old when he was killed, in the neighbourhood where he had spent his whole life. He died in a barrage of bullets fired at him by four San Francisco policemen. There are a few things about his death that everyone agrees on: he was in a hilltop park eating a burrito and tortilla chips, wearing the Taser he carried for his job as a bouncer at a nightclub, when someone called 911 on him a little after 7pm on the evening of 21 March 2014. When police officers arrived a few minutes later, they claim Nieto defiantly pointed the Taser at them, and that they mistook its red laser light for the laser sights of a gun, and shot him in self defence. However, the stories of the four officers contradict each other, and some of the evidence.

On the road that curves around the green hilltop of Bernal Heights Park there is an unofficial memorial to Nieto. People walking dogs or running or taking a stroll stop to read the banner, which is pinned by stones to the slope of the hill and surrounded by fresh and artificial flowers. Alex’s father Refugio still visits the memorial at least once a day, walking up from his small apartment on the south side of Bernal Hill. Alex Nieto had been walking on the hill since he was a child: that evening his parents, joined by friends and supporters, went up there in the dark to bring a birthday cake up to the memorial.

Refugio and Elvira Nieto are reserved people, straight-backed but careworn, who speak eloquently in Spanish and hardly at all in English. They had known each other as poor children in a little town in central Mexico and emigrated separately to the Bay Area in the 1970s, where they met again and married in 1984. They have lived in the same building on the south slope of Bernal Hill ever since. She worked for decades as a housekeeper in San Francisco’s downtown hotels and is now retired. He had worked on the side, but mostly stayed at home as the principal caregiver of Alex and his younger brother Hector. In the courtroom, Hector, handsome, sombre, with glossy black hair pulled back neatly, sat with his parents most days, not far from the three white and one Asian policemen who killed his brother. That there was a trial at all was a triumph. The city had withheld from family and supporters the full autopsy report and the names of the officers who shot Nieto, and it was months before the key witness overcame his fear of the police to come forward.

Nieto died because a series of white men saw him as a menacing intruder in the place he had spent his whole life. They thought he was possibly a gang member because he was wearing a red jacket. Many Latino boys and men in San Francisco avoid wearing red and blue because they are the colours of two gangs, the Norteños and Sureños – but the colours of San Francisco’s football team, the 49ers, are red and gold. Wearing a 49ers jacket in San Francisco is as ordinary as wearing a Saints jersey in New Orleans. That evening, Nieto, who had thick black eyebrows and a closely cropped goatee, was wearing a new-looking 49ers jacket, a black 49ers cap, a white T-shirt, black trousers, and carried the Taser in a holster on his belt, under his jacket. (Tasers shoot out wires that deliver an electrical shock, briefly paralysing their target; they are shaped roughly like a gun, but more bulbous; Nieto’s had bright yellow markings over much of its surface and a 15-foot range.)

Nieto had first been licensed by the state as a security guard in 2007 and had worked in that field since. He had never been arrested and had no police record, an achievement in a neighbourhood where Latino kids can get picked up just for hanging out. He was a Buddhist: a Latino son of immigrants who practised Buddhism is the kind of hybrid San Francisco used to be good at. As a teen he had worked as a youth counsellor for almost five years at the Bernal Heights Neighborhood Center; he was outgoing and participated in political campaigns, street fairs and community events.

He had graduated from community college with a focus on criminal justice, and hoped to help young people as a probation officer. He had an internship with the city’s juvenile probation department not long before his death, according to former city probation officer Carlos Gonzalez, who became a friend. Gonzalez said Nieto knew how criminal justice worked in the city. No one has ever provided a convincing motive for why he would point a gun-shaped object at the police when he knew that it would probably be a fatal act.

n the evening of 21 March 2014, Evan Snow, a thirtysomething “user experience design professional”, according to his LinkedIn profile, who had moved to the neighbourhood about six months earlier (and who has since departed for a more suburban environment), took his young Siberian husky for a walk on Bernal Hill.

As Snow was leaving the park, Nieto was coming up one of the little dirt trails that leads to the park’s ring road, eating chips. In a deposition prior to the trial, Snow said that with his knowledge of the attire of gang members, he “put Nieto in that category of people that I would not mess around with”.

His dog put Nieto in the category of people carrying food, and went after him. Snow never seemed to recognise that his out-of-control dog was the aggressor: “So Luna was, I think, looking to move around the benches or behind me to run up happily to get a chip from Mr Nieto. Mr Nieto became further – what’s the right word? – distressed, moving very quickly and rapidly left to right, trying to keep his chips away from Luna. He ran down to these benches and jumped up on the benches, my dog following. She was at that point vocalising, barking, or kind of howling.”

The dog had Nieto cornered on the bench while its inattentive owner was 40 feet away – in his deposition for the case, under oath, his exact words were that he was distracted by a female “jogger’s butt”. “I can imagine that somebody would – could assume the dog was being aggressive at that point,” Snow said. The dog did not come when he called, but kept barking. Nieto, Snow says, then pulled back his jacket and took his Taser out, briefly pointing at the distant dog-owner before he pointed it at the dog baying at his feet. The two men yelled at each other, and Snow apparently used a racial slur, but would not later give the precise word. As he left the park, he texted a friend about the incident. His text, according to his testimony, said, “in another state like Florida, I would have been justified in shooting Mr Nieto that night” – a reference to that state’s infamous “stand your ground” law, which removes the obligation to retreat before using force in self-defence. In other words, he apparently wished he could have done what George Zimmerman did to Trayvon Martin: execute him without consequences.

Soon after, a couple passed by Nieto. Tim Isgitt, a recent arrival in the area, is the communications director of a nonprofit organisation founded by tech billionaires. He now lives in suburban Marin County, as does his partner Justin Fritz, a self-described “email marketing manager” who had lived in San Francisco about a year. In a picture one of them posted on social media, they are chestnut-haired, clean-cut white men posing with their dogs, a springer spaniel and an old bulldog. They were walking those dogs when they passed Nieto at a distance.

Fritz did not notice anything unusual but Isgitt saw Nieto moving “nervously” and putting his hand on the Taser in its holster. Snow was gone, so Isgitt had no idea that Nieto had just had an ugly altercation and had reason to be disturbed. Isgitt began telling people he encountered to avoid the area. (One witness who did see Nieto shortly after Isgitt and Fritz, longtime Bernal Heights resident Robin Bullard who was walking his own dog in the park, testified that there was nothing alarming about him. “He was just sitting there,” Bullard said.)

At the trial, Fritz testified that he had not seen anything alarming about Nieto. He said that he called 911 because Isgitt urged him to. At about 7.11pm he began talking to the 911 dispatcher, telling her that there was a man with a black handgun. What race, asked the dispatcher, “black, Hispanic?” “Hispanic,” replied Fritz. Later, the dispatcher asked him if the man in question was doing “anything violent”, and Fritz answered, “just pacing, it looks like he might be eating chips or sunflowers, but he’s resting a hand kind of on the gun”. Alex Nieto had about five more minutes to live.


.
San Francisco was never anti-newcomer: until recently, it had always been a place where new people arrived to reinvent themselves. When they arrive in a trickle, they integrate and contribute to the ongoing transformation. When they arrive in a flood, as they have during economic booms since the 19th-century gold rush, including the dotcom surge of the late 1990s and the current tech tsunami, they scour out what was there before. By 2012 the incursion of tech workers had gone from steady stream to deluge, and more and more people and institutions – bookstores, churches, social services, bars, small businesses – began to be evicted.

San Francisco had been a place where some people came out of idealism or stayed to realize an ideal: to work for social justice or teach the disabled, to write poetry or practise alternative medicine – to be part of something larger than themselves that was not a corporation, to live for something more than money. That was becoming less and less possible as rent and sale prices for homes spiralled upward. What the old-timers were afraid of losing, many of the newcomers seemed unable to recognise. The tech culture seemed in small and large ways to be a culture of disconnection and withdrawal. And it was very white, very male and pretty young, which is why I started to call my hometown “Fratistan”. (As of 2014, Google’s Silicon Valley employees, for example, were 2% black, 3% Latino, and 70% male.)

Tech companies created billionaires whose influence warped local politics, pushing for policies that served the new industry and their employees at the expense of the rest of the population. None of the money sloshing around the city trickled down to preserve the centre for homeless youth that closed in 2013, or the oldest black-owned black-focused bookstore in the country, which closed in 2014, or San Francisco’s last lesbian bar, which folded in 2015, or the African Orthodox Church of St John Coltrane, which is now facing eviction from the home it found after an earlier eviction during the late-1990s dotcom boom. Resentments rose. And cultures clashed. . .

Continue reading. There’s much more. The US is a dangerous place for many of its citizens. Rather than protecting them, the police attack them.

Written by Leisureguy

22 March 2021 at 6:05 pm

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.