Fighting the system: The Alex Nieto trial lost in the courts, won in the community

by Tiny aka Lisa Gray-Garcia, Poor News Network

A mama’s son riddled with 59 bullets from a colonizer’s gun / 59 bullets fired by slave-catchers and gentrifier glances.

“The story the cops had was just that, nothing but a story,” said Adante Pointer, attorney for the Alex Nieto family from the law offices of John Burris as he stood in front of the multi-storied federal courthouse occupying space on Yelamu Ohlone land (San Francisco). It was the last day of final arguments in the Nieto family’s civil case against the San Francisco police for the murder of their son.

“The story the cops had was just that, nothing but a story,” said Adante Pointer, attorney for the Alex Nieto family from the law offices of John Burris.

For several days of this history-making trial, members of POOR Magazine sat in the hard wooden seats of the colonizers’ court. When I was there, I watched Pointer make clear and powerful arguments one after the other proving that Alex was killed for being a Brown man in his life-long Mission barrio (neighborhood) by the people who get paid to profile, survey, watch, abuse and kill Black, Brown and poor people in the U.S.

This mama can’t look away / and yet I pray so hard every day / hoping to wipe away / what I can’t unsee – what I can’t ever un-do from that fateful day.

“I am very confused how the jury came to the decision they did after seeing all the evidence that was presented,” said Refugio Nieto, Alex’s father, on Thursday, March 10, when the verdict was released. As he said, the testimony on the side of truth was extensive, including an unsolicited witness who came forward on his own to testify to Alex’s hands being, in fact, in his pockets.

In addition to testimony, physical evidence was clear and simple; a wrist bone fragment was found in Alex’s pocket, proving beyond a reasonable doubt that Alex Nieto, a student, a Buddhist and a good son was eating his dinner before he went on his shift as a security guard and had his hands in his pockets when he was shot 59 times by police.

“I am very confused how the jury came to the decision they did after seeing all the evidence that was presented,” said Refugio Nieto, Alex’s father.

I look at this 28-year-young son, / this Raza peace warrior / this student, this man-child / this human.

The next clear piece of physical evidence was from the Taser Inc. salesman – oops, I mean “expert,” Brian Chiles – who admitted that the taser wasn’t used by Alex when the police claimed it was. Incidentally Taser Inc. is poised to get a multi-million dollar contract with the City and County of San Francisco to sell tasers to the SFPD, another fact brought forth in the trial by Alex’s lawyer.

While all the physical evidence was being presented to a mostly white, all suburban dwelling jury, the disinterested, almost arrogant deputy city attorney objected to little, inconsequential issues, and yet there was really nothing she could present that countered any of the rock solid truths.

There was an extensive and confusing series of testimony about the logging on and off of Alex’s taser, as all taser use is logged in with the parent company, and yet even after all this, Chiles had to admit that the taser was in fact un-used as it lay on the ground next to Alex’s lifeless body in one of many terrifying and tragic images we all saw at multiple times in the court case.

I’m in court in my white-man suit / trying to not breathe ,scream or even move. / Oppressors’ words wash over his beauty / his peaceful spirit / I am trying to hold in screams, gritos, / my body shakes with each utterance. / We are taught to be still. / Held in check by more laws that aren’t even real.

Alex-Nieto-civil-trial-post-verdict-press-conf-Refugio-Elvira-Nieto-speaks-031016-by-PNN-165x300, Fighting the system: The Alex Nieto trial lost in the courts, won in the community, Local News & Views
Elvira Nieto, Alex’s mother, speaks to the press after the verdict was announced. – Photo: Poor News Network

The City’s case was non-existent, their lack of evidence and arrogance based on their being the tools of the machines who set up these racist, white-supremacist systems. They had nothing to present and yet they didn’t seem to care.

In one of the highlights of utter sloppiness from the deputy city attorney who represented the cops, Margaret Baumgartner, there was a strange robot-like man named Mr. Fries (I renamed him Mr. Freeze), who had launched his own 3D crime model business and admitted that he was paid $345 per hour. Once on the stand, he presented his sci-fi superman image that showed Alex dropping to the ground after being shot multiple times and holding his taser like something out of a Batman movie.

The real diagram that showed the way the shots entered Alex’s body was the one created by the Peoples Investigation, a beautiful community-led process to get to the truth of this police murder when the system refuses to come from or present any facsimile of truth.

“The cost is prohibitive to order an independent autopsy, one of the many ways that working class or low-income parents are kept from pursuing their own evidence,” said beautiful advocate for the family and member of the Amor 4 Alex Nieto Coalition, Adriana Camerena.

But in the end, with her typical casual arrogance and understanding of the codes and signs that enable the police to get away with murder, the attorney representing the police officers put the jury form up on the big power-point screen in the room and literally told the jury what box to check off to find the murderers innocent of murder.

A gang in blue tells us to hold our tears, our terror, our shouts, our screams. / We are taught to be quiet / sit in their wood chairs and not riot / to breathe in and out while they shoot us and to get our children ready to kill or be killed.

Alex-Nieto-civil-trial-post-verdict-press-conf-Refugio-Nieto-speaks-Adante-Pointer-Elvira-Nieto-031016-by-PNN-300x169, Fighting the system: The Alex Nieto trial lost in the courts, won in the community, Local News & Views
Refugio Nieto, Alex’s father, speaks to the press. Beside him is the family’s attorney, Adante Pointer. – Photo: Poor News Network

“Sure he had a bone in his pocket,” city attorney Baumgartner said in closing arguments, “but maybe it accidentally got there.” One check-box after another, she took the confused jury down the list: “So in this one you would just say No, and this one you would just say No again,” she said, her instructions rolling off her tongue.

It was a brilliant move to brainwash an already brainwashed jury. Mostly white and middle class, they were all residents of nearby suburbs. None of these people knew the violence of gentrification. None of them knew the brutality of losing your baby, who did nothing but go to work and happen to be Brown.

Oh yeah, but that makes them “objective,” right? Ha, it’s the same lie in so-called “objective” media. There is no such thing as objective. Everyone comes with an opinion, our opinions are shaped by our experience and these people’s experience had nothing to do with the humble, hardworking, born and raised in Frisco Raza Alex Nieto’s experience in a city where his quiet place to sit and eat has now turned into a “dog park” with brand new, mostly white, mostly middle class residents walking around laden with their inherent white supremacist notions of race and class and place, casually thinking a Brown young man in a red jacket was maybe a “gang member” – a statement actually made by Baumgartner in her closing arguments.

“Sure the taser wasn’t on when it was on the ground, but maybe someone kicked it or something,” Baumgartner said, as if kicking a taser could turn it off. Yet we heard extensive testimony from their guy, Chiles, about how hard it is to turn a taser on and off.

The city attorney’s closing argument was a testimony of maybes standing next to a testimony of truths. And yet the jury came back with the form filled out just as they were instructed to do, finding the police innocent of murder.

In the end, this was another murder of a working class Brown man in a city trying to wipe out the existence of working class Black, Brown and Poor people. The killers were paid to do what they did and the system protected their murder, just as it’s supposed to do.

Building, lifting up and manifesting our own humane systems that don’t kill us, test us and arrest us

As brutal and terrifying as this trial was for this mama, for all of us mamas, uncles, papas, brothers and sisters, as devastating as it was to witness yet another miscarriage of so-called colonizer justice, it was also a triumph, a triumph of organizing, of art-making, of love, of community.

A powerful team of poets and artists and dreamers and community members who showed up every day at marches and rallies and art and theatre events and movies and eventually in court is part of the Amor 4 Alex Nieto Coalition. Artists like Favi Estrella and Equipto and so many more, leaders in this beautiful coalition like Adriana Camarena, Oscar Salinas and Ben Bac Sierra, along with Alex’s beautiful parents have continued to manifest community justice and lifted us up so much higher than the hater system could ever begin to bring us.

And so although the courts said we lost, we all know our fight for justice has just begun. It is equally important to “stop looking to training” of the police, as the catch-all solution, says Mesha Irizarry of the Idriss Stelley Foundation who lost her son Idriss to the same killer police in 2001. Leroy Moore and I from POOR Magazine and Krip Hop Nation agree and call on all of us to start looking at each other as solutions.

Alex-Nieto-civil-trial-post-verdict-supporters-gathering-031016-by-PNN-300x169, Fighting the system: The Alex Nieto trial lost in the courts, won in the community, Local News & Views
Supporters gather around the Nietos after the verdict. – Photo: Poor News Network


We need to stop believing in the colonizers’ lie that police mean safety and security. Yes, we walk in this stolen indigenous land every day and yes, our babies are unsafe with these killer cops, but we also have so much community power to change.

To build self-determined manifestations of change as we poor, indigenous, Black and Brown landless people are doing with Homefulness in Deep East Huchuin Ohlone Land is a concept we are sharing with other communities in poverty, facing gentrification, racism and criminalization across Turtle Island. Homefulness features a poor mama- and uncle-led school we built called Deecolonize Academy, which refuses to teach our young leaders lies about the warriors and leaders they came from and can be. Warriors, leaders and peace-bringers like Alex Nieto.

The first step, following in the footsteps of our elders and ancestor revolutionaries in MOVE, the Young Lords and Black Panthers, is to NEVER engage with the police but also to build community like the Justice and Amor for Alex Nieto Coalition and Justice for Mario Woods Coalition have done. In the end we have to keep our children safe and our minds clear.

Realize the issues of racism, gentrification, poverty and houselessness are all linked and so are we all. So as we continue to fight for the crumbs and bang on the systems that oppress us, we also need to build our own – for Mario, for Sandra, for Alex, for Amilcar, for O’Shaine, for Kenny, for Josiah – for so many more and for all of us.

But this is a win, fam / the people have already won / with our own self-determination / with love for Alex / our ancestors and / our collective liberation.

Amor 4 Alex / all power to the people / Our justice has just begun. – “A Poem 4 Alex” by Tiny

Tiny – or Lisa Gray-Garcia – is co-founder with her Mama Dee and co-editor of POOR Magazine and its many projects and author of “Criminal of Poverty: Growing Up Homeless in America,” published by City Lights. She can be reached at Visit POOR at