Coalition for Slain Andy Lopez Founded

by SHEPHERD BLISS

A new, powerful coalition of Latino, social justice, green, progressive Democrats, student, civil liberties, peace, and other groups has emerged in Sonoma County, California. The killing of 13-year-old Andy Lopez by sheriff’s deputy Erick Gelhaus on October 22 unites them.

Over forty members of diverse groups met–many who had never been in a room together–on November 19 to strategize about how to keep the strong momentum going in response to the slaying of Lopez. Many of those who spoke identified themselves as mothers or fathers, who felt the pain of the parents whose son was taken from them.

Lopez was killed while walking near his home with a toy rifle. This slaying has gotten regular front-page coverage locally and has been widely reported around the United States and internationally. Some compare it to the killings of African-Americans Trayvon Martin in Florida and Oscar Grant by a police officer in Oakland. That police officer is now in jail, one of the few cops ever charged for killing someone. Both those slayings ignited communities to demand justice.

The large, peaceful actions by Latinos and their allies could make changes in how Latino neighborhoods are treated by law enforcement. Latinos make up 25% of the populations of Santa Rosa and Sonoma County; they are the fastest growing group. Their continued mobilization on behalf of Andy indicates the rise of a mass movement.

“The Lopez family wants justice for the killing of Andy Lopez, which would be the prosecution of the law officer,” said the family’s attorney Arnoldo Casillas. Those gathered decided to found a Justice Coalition for Andy Lopez. It would focus on the demand for prosecution, and raise other concerns during the sixty days following the meeting. That date was chosen because District Attorney Jill Ravitch must complete her investigation 90 days after the slaying of Lopez.

Among those at the meeting were representatives of the following and other groups: American Civil Liberties Union, North Bay Organizing Project, Latino Democratic Club, Peace and Justice Center, 100 Thousand Poets for Change, Green Party, Police Accountability, Clinic, and Helpline (PACH), Peace and Freedom Party, students from the Santa Rosa Junior College, and close friends of the Lopez family.

“The vacant lot (where Andy was killed) as a park would mean a lot to the family,” attorney Casillas said. The neighborhood has already constructed a large memorial for Lopez there, where it holds regular prayer vigils. Other demands include the creation of a transparent Civilian Review Board to investigate police accountability and cameras for all police officers to wear to document their interactions with residents.

“The lawsuit is a federal civil rights lawsuit. Andy’s civil rights were violated, as were those of his parents. We will later file a wrongful death suit,” Casillas explained. “We are going to look at the policies and practices of the Sheriff’s Office. Many witnesses are afraid to speak to the police. The investigation is a whitewash. I believe their decision has already been made. The conflict of interest is clear.”

Casillas previously won a $24 million settlement in a lawsuit, which went to trial, for a family whose boy was paralyzed by a Los Angeles police officer with only one shot.

Casillas reported on the physical evidence of an independent autopsy. “The first bullet hit his heart and he fell to the ground immediately.” Gelhaus fired seven more shots, six of which hit the dead boy. “The other officer (present) was an 11-year-veteran of another police force. He did not shoot. One shot and the other did not see a threat and did not shoot,” noted Casillas.

The thousands demanding justice for 13-year-old Any Lopez, slain by combat military veteran Gelhaus, had a busy November; more actions are planned for December and beyond. Numerous large marches, rallies, and prayer vigils have been held, as were Teach-Ins at both Santa Rosa Junior College (JC) and Sonoma State University (SSU).

DA Ravitch admitted at a November 14 meeting with Latino leaders that she considers the sheriff a “personal friend.” According to the National Prosecution Standards, this could be grounds for the DA to recuse herself and appoint a special prosecutor. Ravitch is supported by the sheriff in her reelection campaign, as well as by the Santa Rose Police Officers’ Association—a cozy relationship likely to lead to the mutual returning of favors.

SRPD’s current police chief is scheduled to resign and be replaced on December 20, according to Taylor Anderson-Stevenson of the Women’s Justice Center. A totally secret selection process for a new chief appears to be happening; not even elected SR City Council members are involved in a closed-doors, out-of-sight process. Yet transparency is essential to democracy, so that citizens, rather than an elite, make decisions, especially when it comes to life-or-death issues.

At the overflow SSU gathering of around 150, Chicano and Latino Studies professor Ron Lopez commented, “Kids do not have appropriate places to play in southwest Santa Rosa.” Parks and libraries do not exist in this area, which has been neglected. “These are forgotten people, seen as ‘the enemy.’ He fired too fast, too many times.” Dr. Lopez added. “May the community be awakened. You have a social responsibility to take action to prevent these things from happening,” he said to the SSU students, faculty, and staff.

“The Andy Lopez tragedy is intimately implicated with the militarization of the police,” SSU sociology professor Noel Byrne noted later. “The culture of this militarized force promotes a perceptual framework akin to that of an occupying force. Most of the general public is seen as like the populations of Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan during wartime,” added Byrne.

The JC Teach-In drew around 800 people inside a packed room and outside listening on a loudspeaker, according to a JC staff member. “This shooting had the same significance as Rosa Parks saying she would not give up her seat on the bus,” declared Alicia Sanchez, an attorney and president of KBBF bi-lingual radio. “I am proud of the youth. You have taken this killing up as Cesar Chavez taught us—non-violently.”

“I am disturbed by the ongoing need to further include protection for cops. We need protection from cops, not for cops,” JC trustee Robert Edmond said later. “No cop has been killed here since Deputy Frank Trejo in 1995. On the other hand, during that same period, at least 70 people have been killed in cases in which the Law Enforcement Involved Fatal Incident Protocol has been invoked.”

Prayer vigils are ongoing at the vacant lot near where Lopez was killed. A December 3 protest at a fundraiser for DA Ravitch’s re-election is scheduled for the Santa Rosa Veterans building. Information about pending events is available at https://www.facebook.com/marchforandylopez. Those events are planned to climax in a January 20 rally on Martin Luther King Day, which would be at the end of the sixty days.

“Andy Lopez is not going to be forgotten,” attorney Casillas noted near the end of the new coalition’s founding meeting. “There is something that resonates deeply in the hearts of people about the killing of Andy.”

Shepherd Bliss teaches college part time, farms, and has contributed to two-dozen books. He can be reached at: 3sb@comcast.net.

Shepherd Bliss teaches college part time, farms, and has contributed to two-dozen books. He can be reached at: 3sb@comcast.net.

Like What You’ve Read? Support CounterPunch
August 04, 2015
Vincent J. Roscigno
University Bureaucracy as Organized Crime
Paul Street
Bernie Sanders’ Top Five Race Problems: the Whiteness of Nominal Socialism
Herbert Dyer, Jr.
Is White Supremacy a Mental Disorder?
Ramzy Baroud
The Palestinian Bubble and the Burning of Toddler, Ali Dawabsha
Pepe Escobar
Reshuffling Eurasia’s Energy Deck — Iran, China and Pipelineistan
L. Michael Hager
The Battle Over BDS
Eric Draitser
Puerto Rico: Troubled Commonwealth or Debt Colony?
Colin Todhunter
Hypnotic Trance in Delhi: Monsanto, GMOs and the Looting of India’s Agriculture
Benjamin Willis
The New Cubanologos: What’s in a Word?
Matt Peppe
60 Minutes Provides Platform for US Military
Binoy Kampmark
The Turkish Mission: Reining in the Kurds
Eoin Higgins
Teaching Lessons of White Supremacy in Prime-Time: Blackrifice in the Post-Apocalyptic World of the CW’s The 100
Gary Corseri
Gaza: Our Child’s Shattered Face in the Mirror
Robert Dodge
The Nuclear World at 70
Paula Bach
Exit the Euro? Polemic with Greek Economist Costas Lapavitsas
August 03, 2015
Jack Dresser
The Case of Alison Weir: Two Palestinian Solidarity Organizations Borrow from Joe McCarthy’s Playbook
Joseph Mangano – Janette D. Sherman
The Atomic Era Turns 70, as Nuclear Hazards Endure
Nelson Valdes
An Internet Legend: the Pope, Fidel and the Black President
Robert Hunziker
The Perfectly Nasty Ocean Storm
Ahmad Moussa
Incinerating Palestinian Children
Greg Felton
Greece Succumbs to Imperialist Banksterism
Binoy Kampmark
Stalling the Trans-Pacific Partnership: the Failure of the Hawai’i Talks
Ted Rall
My Letter to Nick Goldberg of the LA Times
Mark Weisbrot
New Greek Bailout Increases the Possibility of Grexit
Jose Martinez
Black/Hispanic/Women: a Leadership Crisis
Victor Grossman
German Know-Nothings Today
Patrick Walker
We’re Not Sandernistas: Reinventing the Wheels of Bernie’s Bandwagon
Norman Pollack
Moral Consequences of War: America’s Hegemonic Thirst
Ralph Nader
Republicans Support Massive Tax Evasion by Starving IRS Budget
Alexander Reid Ross
Colonial Pride and the Killing of Cecil the Lion
Suhayb Ahmed
What’s Happening in Britain: Jeremy Corbyn and the Future of the Labour Party
Weekend Edition
July 31-33, 2015
Jeffrey St. Clair
Bernie and the Sandernistas: Into the Void
John Pilger
Julian Assange: the Untold Story of an Epic Struggle for Justice
Roberto J. González – David Price
Remaking the Human Terrain: The US Military’s Continuing Quest to Commandeer Culture
Lawrence Ware
Bernie Sanders’ Race Problem
Andrew Levine
The Logic of Illlogic: Narrow Self-Interest Keeps Israel’s “Existential Threats” Alive
ANDRE VLTCHEK
Kos, Bodrum, Desperate Refugees and a Dying Child
Paul Street
“That’s Politics”: the Sandernistas on the Master’s Schedule
Ted Rall
How the LAPD Conspired to Get Me Fired from the LA Times
Mike Whitney
Power-Mad Erdogan Launches War in Attempt to Become Turkey’s Supreme Leader
Ellen Brown
The Greek Coup: Liquidity as a Weapon of Coercion
Stephen Lendman
Russia Challenges America’s Orwellian NED
Will Parrish
The Politics of California’s Water System
John Wight
The Murder of Ali Saad Dawabsha, a Palestinian Infant Burned Alive by Israeli Terrorists
Jeffrey Blankfort
Leading Bibi’s Army in the War for Washington