The Mission neighborhood around the San Francisco Bay Area NLG office is an epicenter of gentrification. There’s the steady sound of construction of housing and entertainment for the 1%. A couple of blocks from our office, a classmate of my son’s is among dozens of families displaced by a recent huge fire that killed one person – fire escapes were locked and alarms not working. Next door to that still boarded up, blackened building, brand new luxury apartments gleam, unscathed. This was just one of a number of fires in our neighborhood over the past few years, prompting an investigation into whether landlords and speculators are using arson to get around San Francisco’s Rent Ordinance by clearing out low income tenants.
The connection between the violence of gentrification and police violence against people of color has been brought out by activists organizing around the March 21, 2014, SFPD killing of Alejandro “Alex” Nieto on nearby Bernal Hill. Officers shot at Nieto 59 times after a dog walker decided he looked suspicious and called 911 to report a Latino man with a taser “at his hip.” Nieto, a 28-year-old City College student, grew up in Bernal and the Mission and had stopped to eat a burrito at the park on his way to his job as a security guard, carrying his licensed work taser in its holster. He was never described as threatening anyone. The officers brought him to the ground with the first few shots and then shot him ten more times as he lay on the ground. Cops then questioned his parents to see if they could dredge up any dirt on Nieto, not initially telling the parents that their son had been shot. In February, SF District Attorney George Gascón elected not to prosecute the four shooters.
Four more people have been killed by SFPD in the year since Alex Nieto’s death. Of 33 shot and killed and 35 shot and injured by SFPD since 2000, not one officer has ever been prosecuted criminally, or disciplined by the department – notwithstanding Chief Greg Suhr’s recent move to fire eight cops who were exposed by the FBI as exchanging virulently racist and homophobic text messages, which included multiple references to “white power” and killing Black people.
On March 23, over 200 people marked one year of impunity for Nieto’s killers by shutting down Mission Police Station and the entire block of Valencia Street for four hours and fifteen minutes, holding a people’s trial of the four officers in the street in front of the station. The activists blocked a tech bus at the same time to highlight the direct connection between police racial profiling and violence, and gentrification and the accompanying forced displacement of communities of color. NLG Legal Observers were on hand, and we provided a legal hotline and on call lawyers for this large and highly organized action, which successfully concluded without arrests.
The Guild had the honor of providing legal support to another community standing up against gentrification on April 3. Organizers at Qilombo, a radical people of color-led center in West Oakland, have transformed an adjacent vacant lot into a large and beautiful garden which provides the local community with free fresh fruits and vegetables, barbecues and a place to gain political awareness. The garden is part of Afrika Town, an autonomous African counter culture space for organizing, resource sharing and education. Hundreds of youth and adults have been involved in bringing Afrika Town to life. But now, the block is under threat of “redevelopment,” and the owner of the long abandoned lot suddenly surfaced wanting to sell the formerly garbage and needle strewn lot for close to a million dollars. Afrika Town organizers gathered community support and legal support. A number of them trained as NLG Legal Observers. On March 26th, landscapers hired by the land owner arrived with a bulldozer and began to take down the fence around the garden, but were stopped by people who stood in front of the bulldozer and the presence of video cameras and green hats. Eventually the bulldozer left, but promised to return on Friday, April 3rd. Organizers responded by calling for Afrika Town Liberation Day, an all day event to defend the garden which included a children’s jumper, performances, food, and a speak out. Additional NLG Legal Observers joined the Afrika Town Legal Observers at this event, and we were prepared with the legal hotline and on call lawyers. No arrests occurred, as the amazing organizing was successful in getting the land owner to back off indefinitely and consider possibly selling the property to the activists.
We are supporting yet another anti-displacement action this week: Slumlord Paparazzi: Shut Down Landlord Lawyers Workshop! On April 9, Infamous eviction attorneys are hosting a “how to evict” workshop for landlords in Oakland, and activists plan to shame the landlords who attend by forcing them to walk through a mass of “paparazzi” taking their pictures and posting them to social media with the hashtags #slumlordrealness #shameevictors." The NLG hotline will be active: 415-285-1011.