Last Saturday my dad, my brother, Isaiah, and I had the opportunity to march and mourn alongside our neighbors on the anniversary Alex Nieto’s death. Alex was shot 14 times by police on Bernal hill after a dogwalker called 911 and reported suspicious activity. Alex was a security guard at a nightclub in the city and carried his licensed taser at his hip. He was a practicing Buddhist, a pacifist, community college student, provider for his family, and, according to his best friend, dreamed of becoming a youth mentor at Juvenile Hall.
The memorial service started at the site of the shooting with an inclusive, interfaith service, after which we marched procession style to Mission Cultural Center a few blocks away. Along the way we stopped at the sites of other young men’s deaths. Some were lost to peer violence; others, like Alex, were victims of police brutality. One of these victims, Amilcar Perez-Lopez, was killed only two weeks ago– shot six times just around the corner from my house. We stopped traffic along the way, marching down the middle of the street, calling out for justice in alternating Spanish and English. Amidst the tragedy of the situation it was beautiful and humbling to see neighbors of all backgrounds coming together to peacefully protest and remember.
Despite this unity it was still hard not to feel like an outsider. I didn’t know anyone except the people I came with; it’s hard to get to know people here. I hadn’t known Alex, but I felt compelled to be present and support those who had. As I’ve grown up I’ve come to realize that love is more an action than a feeling. I would like to find ways to know my neighbors better, but in the meantime I can still love them. This isn’t necessarily something I am very good at yet.
As I wrote in my last blog post, my neighborhood hasn’t always felt like a very safe place to be, especially as a young woman. I feel guilty knowing that I may have walked past Alex or Amilcar at some point and either ignored or actively avoided them–a response to young men on the street that quickly became second-nature to me after I hit puberty. It’s hard to love people when you’re afraid of them, and I don’t want to live in that fear, but I do want to be practical. The more I think about it, the more I realize that taking the action to love my neighborhood won’t be a simple process.
I am thankful to the community organizers and activists who brought us together on Saturday to march for Alex, I am deeply saddened by the injustice of police brutality and the lack of atonement shown by our law enforcement. I recognize that this abuse of power disproportionately affects people of color and the poor. I want to know how to support my neighbors in their grief and fear, and how to stand up for what is right, especially in a context where I have so much privilege. (In case you hadn’t noticed, police don’t gun down young, white women with any comparable frequency.) However, I do know that my distance from the fear experienced by my (primarily) latin@ neighbors means that a large part of my role is to listen to them, mourn with them, and echo their experiences.
Further reading about Alex Nieto, the memorial, and Amilcar Perez-Lopez:
Justice for Alex Nieto: a page run by his friends and family.
Mission Local shares neighbor’s accounts of Amilcar’s shooting.
Mission Local article on Alex Nieto memorial.