By Cindy Milstein
This Saturday night, February 28, in San Francisco, some 40 to 50 folks rallied at 24th Street BART plaza, handing out “Don’t Talk to the Police” flyers and holding two banners — one reading “It’s always ‘justice’ when police kill,” and the other listing the four cops who murdered Alex Nieto and got off scot-free — for a “March against Police Violence.”
Just two nights earlier, SFPD murdered Amilcar Perez-Lopez a few blocks away from this gentrifying intersection, and their lies-as-rationale are already being spun for why this 21-year-old immigrant from Guatemala had to die at the hands of police.
Several who showed up this evening had heard the gunshots so recently. A friend told me that her 11-year-old Latino son asked her what the noise was all about, when they heard the bullets in their nearby home. Another friend had inadvertently walked into the “crime scene” and was still shaken tonight. Others relayed stories of proximity to the murder, so fresh in their minds.
A 22-year-old Latino wandered into the rally, mentioning that he’d known Alex Nieto, and then stuck around for the march, later voicing his anger at what became a wall of cops, facing off with us from across the same street where their comrades had killed two nights ago. He hadn’t heard about Amilcar’s murder, and when I told him about it, he said, with a deadpan look from shock, “I’m only a year older.”
The march, when it finally decided to take to the streets, was outnumbered probably 2-to-1 or more by SFPD. Still, it spanned across both lanes of 24th Streets, and cars obligatingly moved out of the way, many signaling their approval.
The several dozen or so of us walked to then stand at the same spot of the oh-so-recent murder on Folsom Street. Neighbors, still looking kind of stunned, peered out doors and windows.
On this short and sweet march, to and from BART, most passersby on foot and in cars appeared sympathetic; people raised their fists, or honked their car horn, or gave us a thumb’s up; one guy warned us of more cops lurking around a corner. There were lots of chants along the lines of “How do you spell murder? SFPD!” but also cries directed at cops of “You kill someone over a bicycle?” (police allege, likely falsely, that Amilcar was taking a bike) and “You murder someone for eating a burrito?” (referring to Alex eating a meal when cops killed him), then louder still, still at the cops, “Racists!” And people noted other SFPD killings, including of Matthew Hoffman, only last month, right outside the Mission cop shop because he was having mental health issues.
Mostly, this march echoed the refrain of the need to “honor the dead and fight for the living,” even as someone remarked how much sadness hangs over this neighborhood — sorrows and grief over suspicious fires that kill, injure, and displace working-class folks, mostly of color; luxury developments rising up on, increasingly, every corner, tearing out heart and soul; killer cops and greedy landlords, thieves both of lives and homes and dreams.
There is a sadness, like fog, in this besieged neighborhood, spilling guts and tears and blood as people try their damnest to stay put, or in Amilcar’s case, to save money to send home to his family in Guatemala, as one of his friends said on FB today, observing what a nice kid he was and how he was just a few doors from his own house when cops’ bullets brought him to the pavement instead.
There is much sorrow that congregates, on nights like this evening, to remind itself of its own resolve; of the social bonds and conscience that’s still here in SF’s Mission, despite it all; of the fact that, as some friends said to me as they kissed my cheek good-night, “Just remember, we’re here; we’re family.”
Yet how long any of us who aren’t wanted in this “New Mission” can survive here is too fragile a question, asked in whispers, asked in pain. It is the crux of the sadness behind this march, notwithstanding its necessity and poignancy. We take the streets, briefly; they, cops and capitalism, take another life, permanently. And the mourning and fighting goes on, a bit harder each time.
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(Photos by Nancy Mancias, 24th Street, SF Mission, February 28, 2015.)