Black and Brown Unity Against Police Impunity

PNNscholar1 - Posted on 08 January 2016

Tony Robles

What is Mario Woods telling us?  Mario, you made a film, shot a film about your home, the Bayview.  It was titled, “HP From Then till Now”.  Opening shot, your home, mid-shot—the faces and voices of your home—wide shot; shots from different angles—shots all over.  Mario, tell us what it is you see, what are you telling us?  The only thing that many people know about you is the image of you, pursued by the cops, and the gunshots ringing out, piercing your body, which is the black body of the city, the black memory of the city, the memory that the city wants to erase.  I watch your film, shot upon shot, showing the faces of your community—young men of color, smiling and posturing to cover insecurity, to assert their worth by any means necessary to a city that does not value them.  Mario, you took your camera and focused on the faces of the streets, the landscape of Bayview, sometimes shot with an unsteady hand, sometimes steady, framing the Bayview of the past and present in an attempt to figure the future and your place in it; mid-shot, wide shot, close up; shot by shot—the dreams of a better community, one that is not neglected.  But what people saw was your death, your execution, the killing of community, the killing of a vision that is seen in the voices and faces you captured with your camera, your lens, your heart.


On March 6th, community members from the justice for Mario Woods and Alex Nieto Coalitions marched in a show of black and brown solidarity, calling for the firing of SF Police Chief Greg Suhr and to express outrage at the lack of leadership and compassion on the part of the Mayor in the aftermath of the police murder of Mario Woods.  The Alex Nieto contingent gathered on the hill at Bernal Heights Park at the site where Alex was murdered by SFPD.  The area, plagued by the spread of gentrification—the economic and police state mindset intent on ridding the community of low income people, people of color and people who resist the out of control economic war waged in the city.  The parents of Alex Nieto were among those gathered at Bernal Hill, quietly holding the pain and spirit of their son Alex and the community.  In their faces are the land and the scars it bears, land that was stolen long ago from its original inhabitants.  Those who gathered at Bernal honored the 4 corners of mama earth in ceremony as the clouds hovered slowly across the gray wet sky.


We walked up the Hill of Bernal Heights Park.  We chanted “We are here in Unity against police impunity!”  Mr. and Mrs. Nieto led the march bearing a banner calling for justice for Alex.  We walked uphill, soon to be followed by the drone of police motorcycles.  Soon we were walking down a slope, heading towards Bayview where the Mario Woods contingent was marching, our hearts, our energy, our calls for justice inching closer in a meeting of black/brown unity to converge on Williams Street as one.


The call for justice for Alex Nieto and Mario Woods are interwoven, both calling for the firing of Chief Suhr, both calling for the dismantling of the racist culture of law enforcement in the city and across the country, and both connected to the economic cleansing and displacement in the community.  The justice for Alex Nieto Coalition has worked tirelessly to fight the police narrative that justifies the shooting of Alex.  The coalition recently screened a movie called, “Lowrider Lawyers” where the city is put on trial for the death of Alex Nieto (For a review, see  The civil lawsuit trial in the death of Alex Nieto is set for March 1, 2016.


As we inched towards Williams Street, we were met by more cops, on motorcycles, in cars and lining the streets.  Our contingent arrived first, and we stopped and people spoke, representing the SF Labor Council, Poor Magazine, Manilatown Heritage Foundation among other organizations.  As the moments passed, we heard a slow rumble, first soft, then louder.  In the distance was the Mario Woods contingent, making its way closer, banners announcing Justice for Mario, voices in unity and finally the coming together—black and brown—Bayview and Mission, two communities in an embrace of love, of amor for Mario and Alex.  The community—black and brown—converged on Williams, in front of the police station—officers lined in front, standing emotionless in midst of the swelling outrage at their presence, their occupation, their history, that was denounced by black and brown youth in poetry and in testimony.


The coming together of black and brown communities was powerful, one of the most powerful and heartfelt things I have witnessed in the city in years.  Gwen Woods, mother of Mario, overcome with grief, confronted officers who stood, impassive.  “You shot my son, like an animal!” she cried, as community stood in support and resistance to the police in the murder of Mario.


In a beautiful show of love and solidarity, the parents of Alex Nieto and mother of Mario Woods broke bread  honoring their sons in the Latino Tradition of Dia De Reyes—a Christmas Holiday tradition—where food in shared on Jan. 6th.  Community organizer Oscar Salinas presented Gwen Woods with a piece of cake. “Amor for Mario Woods…love for Mario Woods” he said.  It was a beautiful showing of black and brown unity.  The rain came down, soft then hard.  Elders and youth spoke, and cake was shared.  In the words of Oscar Salinas on the coming together of black and brown communities, “It’s 2 families coming to the table breaking bread. It’s an important time.  Families share stories—sorrow, pain—but also strength.  2 families mourning, holding each other up.  Now you have 2 communities as one fighting this institution called the SFPD."


Note: To see Mario Wood’s short documentary, go to:



© 2015 Tony Robles





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