On Oct. 22, in Santa Rosa, Ca., Sonoma County Deputy Sheriff Erich Gelhaus screamed at 13-year-old Andy Lopez, telling him to drop his “weapon,” a toy gun. Within five seconds Gelhaus shot seven bullets into Lopez, killing him. Then, Gelhaus handcuffed the boy's body and evacuated the scene rather than get medical attention for Lopez. All of this is acknowledged by both the Sonoma County Sheriff's Department and the Santa Rosa Police Department.
“Right now, there's nothing screaming at us that [Gelhaus] violated any policy,” was the candid admission of Assistant Sheriff Lorenzo Dueñas, as he announced, on Dec. 6, that Gelhaus would return to work. Duenas's assessment was based on a report on a supposedly ongoing investigation by the SRPD. Included in the report was a comparison of Lopez's toy gun with a real AK-47 to “prove” to the public how much they look alike. Gelhaus did what law enforcement in this country is supposed to do. He terrorized a working class community of color.
In response to Duenas's announcement a new demonstration was called for Dec. 10 by the Justice Coalition for Andy Lopez. This coalition has been leading the youth of Santa Rosa in weekly demonstrations that have forced the SRPD to release Gelhaus's name and have pressured the City Counsel to embrace a plan to turn the vacant lot in which Lopez died into a city park named after him. On Dec. 10 around 100 people gathered outside the Santa Rosa City Council building to demand they be heard. The City Council has been under a defacto gag order by the City Manager and City Attorney not to discuss Lopez's killing since it occurred.
Justice Coalition member Ramon Cairo had suggested that the protesters carry 57 crosses, representing each victim of Sonoma County law enforcement since 2000. Each cross had a note on it listing the name of the victim it represented and a short description of the circumstances of that person's death. As the protesters approached the City Council building with the crosses, SRPD surrounded the building and started pushing and menacing the marchers but the crowd forced their way into the building with protesters, including ANSWER Coalition and Justice Coalition for Andy Lopez member Forrest Schmidt, propping the doors open with their bodies.
Police arrest protest organizer
As the protesters reached the City Council, about half of the city's elected representatives fled. The other half stayed and expressed their condolences for Lopez's death and their understanding of the protesters' concerns. As the crowd peacefully marched out of the building, the Santa Rosa cops again blocked the doors and then tackled Cairo. Outraged, the crowd again forced their way past the cops, into the building, chanting, “Let him go!” as the cops roughed up Cairo, who was later taken away.
The entire crowd then marched over a mile and a half to the Santa Rosa police station to support Cairo. The people were greeted by two units of riot cops sporting grenade launchers and growling dogs. The cops declared the protest an “unlawful assembly,” a veiled threat of brutality against the public. Much of the crowd, understanding the danger posed by the cops, dispersed. But thirty protesters marched to the Sheriff's department, followed by cops. The bullying tactics of the SRPD became ever more violent. The final group protesters decided on a tactical retreat, but this did not stop the police from randomly arresting Jose Godoy as he was driving away from the protest.
The struggle for justice for Andy Lopez will continue. Jailhouse for Gelhaus!
As this article was being prepared for posting on Dec. 16, Ramon Cairo’s bail was increased to $45,000, and an additional charge was added.