He was executed because a couple young white professionals new to the neighborhood where Alex spent his whole life were threatened by a brown-skinned 28-year-old in a 49er’s jacket.
A few days ago Kurt Lipschutz and I were in my shoebox-sized “office” space in SOMA toying with our Temple Beautiful musical and I was absently strumming my guitar. We meandered into complaining about this, that, and the other thing when we got into the Alex Nieto civil case verdict which had just come in. We got charged up. “He was a Buddhist, Man! “He was born in General Hospital!” I hit the loudest chord I know (a “B” barre chord with all the remaining strings ringing open) and shouted to the walls, “Alex Nieto was a pacifist!” “A Forty Niners fan!!!!!” Kurt answered back. Soon there were two chords going back and forth and we were digging what we were hearing bouncing around the room. Twenty minutes later the song had pretty much written itself.
Later, we took a walk up 7th Street toward the Muni underground on Market, and the weight of responsibility to the memory of Alex Nieto began to sunk in. We argued over a couple of lines, fixed them, and parted ways. Coincidentally I had a session booked the next day at Matt Winegar’s new studio in his garage in Oakland. When I got there I picked up an acoustic and sang it to Matt. Then, he simply handed me his Gibson Les Paul and got behind the drums. We passed instruments back and forth and within a couple hours we had a track.
Some of the small details may be wrong, but the big picture is there. And I’m still not 100% sure I pronounced Nieto correctly. [I think it’s Nee-Eh-Toe].
What I do know is that Alex Nieto was a good dude, with no criminal background whatsoever, probably more of a contributing member to society than I am, and a good brother, and a son to two strong parents. He was killed by police while eating a burrito in Bernal Heights, a gentrifying neighborhood that he grew up in and … he did not deserve to die.
He. Did. Not. Deserve. To. Die.
They profiled him as a gang member and called 911.
This culture clash is nothing new. Some of you may remember the DropBox dudes who printed out a land deed to take over a community soccer field. Their attempt to change the natural order of things at a public park where pickup soccer games had been the norm as long as anyone could remember gave us all a good laugh. It’s an oldie but goodie. But we’re not laughing anymore.
Now it’s war.
Yes, Alex had a taser. It was for his job as a security guard. In that park, as a result of those 911 calls, cops unloaded 59 bullets in and around him. A federal jury of non-San Francisco residents ruled that the four San Francisco police officers who fired those bullets and killed him two years ago did not use excessive force. How many bullets would that have been?
I know I’ve ranted and raved about life here in Start Up City. And how the city has bent over to give tax breaks and incentives to Techies. And about corruption and unchecked growth. And what kind of effect all this gentrification is having … and on and on.
Now hold on. I get it. One of the things I love about San Francisco is that everybody comes from somewhere else. These young techies came here to chase a dream too, just like the rest of us. I’ve said it before: San Francisco is where I invented myself. It has been my education. In the arts and culture, politics and sexes. I was an 18-year-old brat who’d seen the DKs at the Mabuhay and wanted more. I enrolled in SF State, dropped out, and tuned up. I played in bands. Backed comedians. Pitched in on student films. Met the people who would change the course of my life. And yes, I was dead lucky.
To hear the song click here.
(For a more professional account, go here for an excellent piece of long-form journalism by Rebecca Solnit: .)
Power to the people right on.
This article originally appeared on Rock and Rap Confidential.