The name Andy Lopez probably didn’t ring a bell before October 22, 2013. On that afternoon, the 13-year-old Lopez was just a kid playing with a BB gun near his house in Santa Rosa. But then a sheriff’s deputy saw him, and says he mistook the toy gun for a real rifle. The deputy ended up shooting and killing Lopez. Now, the name Andy Lopez has come to represent a movement in his community.
The field where Lopez was shot is now home to a memorial, made up of flowers, candles and photographs. On a recent weeknight, community members gathered to say prayers for the 13-year-old.
Veronica Martinez is there, serving coffee to those praying. She says she came to support Andy’s family by helping to clean up and collect donations.
In the weeks following the shooting, people regularly visited this memorial site. Martinez says it’s because they are neighbors and parents who want to speak out against injustice.
The field is off Moorland avenue, in the southwest of Santa Rosa.
Efren Carrillo was raised in this part of the city, and is now a county Supervisor representing the fifth district, which includes the neighborhood around Moorland avenue.
He explains that Santa Rosa is divided into four quadrants, with the US Route 101 running north and south through the city, and highway 12 from east to west.
“When you look a little further and deeper there are divisions, not only around economic disparities, but also racial. You look at the southwest quadrant of the city, it is predominately Latino,” he explains.
Carillo says the area is also noticeably rundown compared to other parts of the city, where you can find million dollar homes. The infrastructure, sidewalks, roads - are dilapidated. And it has struggled with gang-related crime. Carrillo says the shooting has highlighted larger issues that have long existed here.
“Not only to the relationship between the law enforcement community and the community as a whole, but larger looming issues around economic disparities, around representation. And what we’ve seen from this tragedy is a galvanization of the community,” says Carillo.
The day after the shooting, bilingual radio station KBBF in Santa Rosa opened their phone lines to give people a chance to talk about what happened.
One caller said she felt very hurt by the shooting, and that she felt for Lopez’ mother. Another caller said it was important to remember to look at the incident from a variety of perspectives.
“Cuando agentes de policia dice pare, se tiene que parar. No corras, siendo inocente, no tiene nada que temer. Y es el trabajo de los papas, nosotros los padres,” the caller said in Spanish.
“When police officers tell you to stop, you have to stop. Don’t run. If you’re innocent, you have nothing to fear. It’s the parents’ job to teach this to their kids.”
Alicia Sanchez is on the board of KBBF, and is a longtime social activist. She says people’s initial anger has given way to something deeper - and that’s what’s really drawn everyone to the vigil, and to the streets.
“The first reaction of people right now is that there’s the anger,” says Sanchez. “We have to use the word that people hopes will go away. This was a racist act. And so I think the killing of this child finally said to people enough is enough. They’re saying enough of this discrimination. For me, it’s the youth who are saying, because I dress a certain way, because I’m walking down the street, you automatically make this assumption that I am a criminal, when you’re not looking at me and saying I’m just a young kid, man. I’m just a young kid that’s playing with a toy.”
Taking to the streets
The shooting has brought thousands of people out to various protests, drawing residents from across the city. But most notably, young Latinos came out in force.
17-year-old Vicente Adames is from Mooreland. He came out to a rally in downtown Santa Rosa a week after the shooting.
“Personally, I knew Andy growing up so I’m here to support his family. I think about this whole march that is bringing the community together. There’s been several gangs out here and they’ve all came together and there’s been no fighting, no anything. Everybody’s just saying ‘do it for Andy’ you know,” says Adames.
Vanessa Ventura is also 17, and lives close to where Lopez was shot.
“It’s a good neighborhood, but there is some violence, gang violence. The cops come into the neighborhood with the mentality that we are all involved in that stuff when we are not…They harass us a lot, and it’s getting tiring and it builds up to this, where we lose someone who didn’t deserve to die,” she says.
Ventura says she sees this as her chance to get involved in bringing positive change to her community. “Now that this has happened and all the youth is just like ‘wow, this is our generation.’ So we’re just coming together and making our point, we’re trying to prove something. We hope our voice is heard,” she says.
Know your rights
On a Saturday afternoon, a few weeks after the shooting, a couple dozen kids and adults gather for a seminar at Santa Rosa Junior College. It’s titled ‘know your rights’.
Robert Edmonds fields questions from the group and deals with topics such as – What to do during a police search? Can you choose a female or male officer during a frisk? And role playing what to do if the police come to your house.
Edmonds is a student trustee at Santa Rosa Junior College and he organized the workshop with the student chicano group M.E.Ch.A. Edmonds has long been involved with police accountability work in Sonoma County.
“There’s a lot of issues at play, there’s a lot of social issues why people are rising up now, and it’s predominantly young people and people in the Latino community that feel that something is just not right, even if they can’t put their finger on it,” he says.
Investigations by the Santa Rosa police department and FBI are still ongoing. The police department did release an official timeline of what happened. It says two deputies spotted Andy Lopez carrying the BB gun, called for backup, then within ten seconds of identifying him as a potential threat, one of the deputies, Erik Gelhaus, fired at the boy hitting him seven times. The department also explained that one of the deputies shouted at the boy to put down the gun. As Andy Lopez turned towards them with the gun, the deputy feared he was about to begin shooting. Initial finding from the Sheriff’s Department show that the deputy acted according to procedure in his use of deadly force, and on December 10th, Gelhaus returned to administrative work at the Sheriff’s Department.
Jasmin Lopez and Tatiana Harrison contributed to this story.
To listen, please click on the audio link above.