FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Demanding Justice for Andy Lopez

by SHEPHERD BLISS

Christmas Eve is when many families gather to celebrate and exchange gifts. But what would you do when a beloved child of your immediate or extended family had been killed two months before?

This Christmas Eve a committee of the Justice Coalition for Andy Lopez met to plan a peaceful, dignified action to support the family whose 13-year-old son Andy Lopez was killed October 22 in Santa Rosa by Sonoma County sheriff’s deputy Erick Gelhaus. They demand a halt to cops killing innocent children and then not being indicted and punished.

The nearly dozen who met decided to organize Mothers in White pleading for justice for Andy at the January 7, Tuesday, meeting of the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors, at 1 p.m. Among those present were representatives of the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People), the Women’s Political Caucus, and radio stations such as KBBF-FM, the United States’ first bi-lingual station, and KPFA-FM, a Pacifica station.

A bi-lingual flyer about the event includes a photo of Andy’s parents Sujey and Rodrigo over his coffin. Mrs. Lopez apparently plans to attend the event and may speak to the supervisors as a mother whose innocent son was killed by law enforcement.

“Every member of the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors is staring into a moral crisis!” reads the flyer. “What kind of ‘policy’ permits the brutal killing of a 13-year-old child who committed NO CRIME?” it asks. It poses the questions, “To what length would you go if your innocent child or grandchild was brutally murdered?”

The committee reported its intention to “create a dramatic visual impact” of at least 50 Mothers in White, as well as their allies, including men in white and the group Women in Black, which has appeared on street corners around the world to bear witness to those killed by violence.

People are invited to bring mirrors to hold up to the supervisors to examine themselves. Supervisor Mike McGuire apparently said that Andy’s death was a time to reflect in the mirror. This peaceful event intends such a reflection.

The color white was selected because it was Andy’s favorite color. White is not the absence of color, but the mixture of all colors, which is what this mass movement for justice seeks.

Thanksgiving was difficult for the Lopez family, which includes two surviving children. Mrs. Sujey released a letter to Gelhaus, District Attorney Jill Ravitch and others that included the following: “May this day of Thanksgiving be an unforgettable one for all of you, never forgetting my misery and the suffering of my family…you didn’t even give my son time to face you. You murdered him like it was nothing, killed like a bird or raccoon on the side of a road…I comfort myself by hugging my son’s ashes.

“I’ve know too many mothers whose children’s lives were stolen by police,” said organizer and mother Dara McCuistion, who chaired the Christmas Eve meeting. “When I heard about this I thought, ‘My GOD! Not a 13-year-old child.’ I have seen Sujey’s mourning eyes. I have heard about Andy’s father Rodrigo’s cries over his casket. It’s too much.”

The January 7 action will be among dozens of prayer vigils, marches, rallies, and potlucks that have occurred since Andy’s killing. For example, on December 20 a group calling themselves Andy’s Youth marched from the Santa Rosa City Hall to the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office without incident. “We’re just trying to be peaceful,” 15-year-old Lisbet Mendoza said. They walked slowly and silently, holding candles and wearing white shirts with images of Andy.

Their demands include the creation of a Citizen Review Board of the police. The supervisors have authorized a task force to study models for citizen oversight of local law enforcement, which could hopefully prevent such killings in the future. Among the 15 seats appointed by supervisors are human rights activists, student leaders, law enforcement officers, an attorney, an academic, and a former supervisor.

“Its members are for the most part the type who are reluctant to stand up to authority,” commented a cautious Coalition activist and mother Karen Saari. “I suspect the intent in forming the task force is to assuage public outcry and make the general public think something meaningful is being done. I would be very surprised if the outcome has any real teeth.”

The community also demands the building of an Andy Lopez Memorial Park on the vacant lot where Andy was playing with a toy rifle when he was killed. Some have suggested that the park also include a garden. Money has also been allocated by the supervisors to build such a park.

Lopez family attorney Arnoldo Cassilas opened a December 18 Coalition meeting attended by 50 people. He announced plans to file a federal civil rights lawsuit by Dec. 27. “The lawsuit will have various claims, including direct negligence in training and retaining Gelhaus by the Sheriff’s Office. They knew they had a powder keg, which exploded,” said Cassilas.

He explained that “the lot where Andy was killed was the park where kids played airsoft war games. Gelhaus, according to a neighbor, had driven by months ago and saw them playing with toy guns.” It is not unusual for boys to play games such as “cops and robbers.”

The community has been particularly disappointed that in less than two months after the killing, Gelhaus returned to duty, at a desk. “Now that Gelhaus is back, we can serve him. We know where he is. He has 30 days to answer. Then the judge requires that we sit down.”

Cassilas revealed some of his research on Gelhaus. The Iraq combat veteran has been teaching at a gun school in Arizona founded by Jeff Cooper, whom Cassilas described as “a white supremist.”

Gelhaus went from the killing fields of Iraq to work in a neighborhood of other dark-skinned people. Some militarized police transfer their military training and instead of serving and protecting they see neighborhoods with people of color as “the bad guys.”

Among the preparations for future actions was a December 28 Street Action Leadership Workshop on non-violence “designed to help people protest as safely and effectively as possible.”

Pending events include a presence at the January 20 Martin Luther King, Jr. Day Rally, a voter registration drive, and advocating the annexation of the Roseland and Mooreland areas, where Andy was killed, into the City of Santa Rosa.

The daily Press Democrat has published many letters to the editors, both condemning and supporting Gelhaus. In one, headlined “Gelhaus’ Mistake,” Noah Moore of Cotati wrote, “The death of Andy Lopez was a mistake, but some mistakes you have to pay for.” Gelhaus “should be removed from law enforcement and convicted of a felony that prohibits his ownership of guns.”

Ignited by the killing of Andy, the Latino community and its allies have already achieved a number of victories by their ongoing efforts for justice. They show no signs of lessening their efforts.

Latinos comprise around 25% of both Santa Rosa and Sonoma County’s population and are its fastest growing component. Their strong, ongoing response to Andy’s killing strengthens their political and moral power.

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.

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

March 28, 2017
Mike Whitney
Ending Syria’s Nightmare will Take Pressure From Below 
Mark Kernan
Memory Against Forgetting: the Resonance of Bloody Sunday
John McMurtry
Fake News: the Unravelling of US Empire From Within
Ron Jacobs
Mad Dog, Meet Eris, Queen of Strife
Michael J. Sainato
State Dept. Condemns Attacks on Russian Peaceful Protests, Ignores Those in America
Ted Rall
Five Things the Democrats Could Do to Save Their Party (But Probably Won’t)
Linn Washington Jr.
Judge Neil Gorsuch’s Hiring Practices: Privilege or Prejudice?
Philippe Marlière
Benoît Hamon, the Socialist Presidential Hopeful, is Good News for the French Left
Norman Pollack
Political Cannibalism: Eating America’s Vitals
Bruce Mastron
Obamacare? Trumpcare? Why not Cubacare?
David Macaray
Hollywood Screen and TV Writers Call for Strike Vote
Christian Sorensen
We’ve Let Capitalism Kill the Planet
Rodolfo Acuna
What We Don’t Want to Know
Binoy Kampmark
The Futility of the Electronics Ban
Andrew Moss
Why ICE Raids Imperil Us All
March 27, 2017
Robert Hunziker
A Record-Setting Climate Going Bonkers
Frank Stricker
Why $15 an Hour Should be the Absolute Minimum Minimum Wage
Melvin Goodman
The Disappearance of Bipartisanship on the Intelligence Committees
Patrick Cockburn
ISIS’s Losses in Syria and Iraq Will Make It Difficult to Recruit
Russell Mokhiber
Single-Payer Bernie Morphs Into Public Option Dean
Gregory Barrett
Can Democracy Save Us?
Dave Lindorff
Budget Goes Military
John Heid
Disappeared on the Border: “Chase and Scatter” — to Death
Mark Weisbrot
The Troubling Financial Activities of an Ecuadorian Presidential Candidate
Robert Fisk
As ISIS’s Caliphate Shrinks, Syrian Anger Grows
Michael J. Sainato
Democratic Party Continues Shunning Popular Sanders Surrogates
Paul Bentley
Nazi Heritage: the Strange Saga of Chrystia Freeland’s Ukrainian Grandfather
Christopher Ketcham
Buddhism in the Storm
Thomas Barker
Platitudes in the Wake of London’s Terror Attack
Mike Hastie
Insane Truths: a Vietnam Vet on “Apocalypse Now, Redux”
Binoy Kampmark
Cyclone Watch in Australia
Weekend Edition
March 24, 2017
Friday - Sunday
Michael Hudson
Trump is Obama’s Legacy: Will this Break up the Democratic Party?
Eric Draitser
Donald Trump and the Triumph of White Identity Politics
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Nothing Was Delivered
Andrew Levine
Ryan’s Choice
Joshua Frank
Global Coal in Freefall, Tar Sands Development Drying Up (Bad News for Keystone XL)
Anthony DiMaggio
Ditching the “Deep State”: The Rise of a New Conspiracy Theory in American Politics
Rob Urie
Boris and Natasha Visit Fantasy Island
John Wight
London and the Dreary Ritual of Terrorist Attacks
Paul Buhle
The CIA and the Intellectuals…Again
David Rosen
Why Did Trump Target Transgender Youth?
Vijay Prashad
Inventing Enemies
Ben Debney
Outrage From the Imperial Playbook
M. Shadee Malaklou
An Open Letter to Duke University’s Class of 2007, About Your Open Letter to Stephen Miller
Michael J. Sainato
Bernie Sanders’ Economic Advisor Shreds Trumponomics
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail