Updated: by the SRPD's own admission, Andy Lopez hadn't fully turned around to see who might be calling to him before he was struck with bullets. That according to the autopsy, he was struck, among other places, in the right hip and buttock from behind.Today, I went to Andy Lopez' march and rally (or three rallies, to nitpick). I was there for five hours, and it exceeded my every expectation (Photo gallery in the link.)
This is what I was greeted by:
So 1,500-2000 people came together today in a virtually unprecedented act of solidarity for Santa Rosa, CA to protest the brutal and senseless murder of 13-year old Andy Lopez Cruz at the hands of Sergeant Erick Gelhaus.
While people have disputed whether or not Andy's death was somehow justifiable, it's hard to deny that the public has been consumed with grief over this 8th-grader's shooting. Slowly but surely, bits and pieces of the puzzle have emerged, as eyewitnesses step forth and the FBI situates themselves to take over. Part of the public's concern is the sheer magnitude of officer-involved fatalities -- primarily involving minorities, young men, and/or the disabled or mentally ill to an almost complete and utter exclusion of any other people. This pattern is so identifiable that it can, indeed, only be considered a pattern.
The first thing that should be noted is that, while officer-involved fatalities aren't necessarily uncommon in America, they are disproportionately high in the California Bay Area. Moreover, a 2000 California Commission on Civil Rights Report found severe problems in Sonoma County, in particular, where Andy Lopez lived. While the Commission found violations and suggested the implementation of civilian review boards, and other factors such as:
Although all departments offered training on cultural diversity and domestic violence, and some provided training in dealing with suspects under the influence of drugs or alcohol, the Advisory Committee found the training to be limited in scope and hours.
Recommendation 2.1 The departments should increase training on cultural diversity using a broad-based, unified, and comparative approach.
Recommendation 2.2 The departments should increase training in the handling of domestic violence situations.
Recommendation 2.3 The departments should increase training in the handling of suspects who may be experiencing a psychiatric, drug, or alcohol episode.
Recommendation 2.4 The departments should increase training to assist officers in diffusing situations and de-escalating violence. The departments should encourage and expand the use of mediation techniques.
Recommendation 2.5 City officials should ensure commitment from law enforcement command structure for alternatives to the use of deadly force and provide resources to the departments for implementation
But...every piece of this advice went unheeded. In 2006, Richard DeSantis, a young husband and father struggling with a bipolar disorder, was shot and murdered by Officer Richard Celli. Not long after this, 16-year-old High School student, valedictorian, and pacifist Jeremiah Chass was also shot and murdered in an adjacent town by Sheriff John Misita. These incidents, and others, caused community outcry, with local area Progressives teaming up with everyone from NAMI to the ACLU to the NAACP to the Black Panthers to try to finally put an end to these murders.
The basis for these murders seemed to have something to do with how officers were 1.) being trained to follow certain protocol when approaching "suspicious targets," with an "aim-for-the-torso-until-the-subject-ceases-breathing" mentality; 2.) that in Sonoma County, officers were being trained vis-a-vis the paramilitaristic methods of the Department of Homeland Security because , in fact, the Sheriff's Department was collaborating with one branch of DHS, ICE, through the MAGNET (multi-agency gang enforcement team) -- resulting in a 2008 ACLU-NC lawsuit for increased transparency. It is a fact that many law enforcement in Sonoma County attended DHS trainings; 3.) Due to the 2006 Copley Act a.k.a. "Shield Laws" which changed the privacy settings, so to speak, on information that individual officers did, or did not, have to reveal publicly, thus shutting down community attempts to find out the truth about who was behind the mass slaughter of persons in California communities. Additionally, police became increasingly paramilitarized, perhaps due to rubbing DHS elbows; at any rate, they became very RoboCop-looking dudes, fueled by machismo, fueled by aggression, never to cross the blue line.
Did I mention the racial component of officer-involved fatalities in Sonoma County? If that wasn't clearly stated enough, the staggering majority of incidents have been white-on-brown or white-on-black.
So how does this lead us to Andy Lopez Cruz, a 13-year old trumpet player and well-liked young man at his middle-school, and whose shirt I'm wearing while typing this, one of 100 that his 4th Grade teacher made to help raise funds for his families' funeral?
Down the lily path. That's how.
On October 22nd, Andy was playing a venerable childhood game that most young men and certainly many officers would have been familiar with, out in the rural edges of the blue collar area where he lived with his Spanish-speaking, hard-working family.
But Andy had the misfortune of encountering Sergeant Deputy Erick Gelhaus, an officer who was one of the first people to join forces with the earliest versions of MAGNET, described as A 24-year veteran of the office, a seven year training officer now responsible for who-knows how many other "Gelhaus-clones" in the local agency, and rather ominously as "a frequent advocate in his writing for a prepared, aggressive stance in law enforcement, a profession he has described as a "calling" and likened to a "contact sport." Gelhaus also "wrote for S.W.A.T. Magazine about strategies for surviving an ambush in the 'kill zone,' where he rather presciently described, "the "nanoseconds (that) seem like minutes as you scramble to react while simultaneously thinking about your children and spouse."
But worse, Gelhaus wrote in S.W.A.T.
"Today is the day you may need to kill someone in order to go home."Even if that someone is thirteen-years old, apparently.
So it's clear that Gelhaus was highly acquainted with weapons, or as it has been put, "a gun expert" who was an adjunct instructor for two gun training institutes in the United States, Gunsite and Aimpoint. He most certainly was highly familiar with AK 47'sHe was also a regular writer for Modern Services Weapons, a magazine where he wrote:
Today is the day you may need to kill someone in order to go home. If you cannot turn into the 'Mean Gene' for yourself, who will? If you find yourself in an ambush, in the kill zone, you need to turn on the 'Mean Gene.'Gelhaus served in Iraq, and muses about himself: "While in Iraq in addition to supervising a heavy weapons squad and being responsible for Soldiers and equipment, I testified in Iraqi courts during the prosecution of insurgents." He states that he was "fighting a global war on terror" in the Army and the National Guard. His hobbies include hunting, boxing, and killing animals while on safari. He also enjoyed writing 3,000 posts on The Firing Line Forums, all of which have been removed, but some of which have been saved, such as this odd conversation where a poster poses a highly, painfully ironic question about the legality of accidentally shooting or murdering someone just holding a b b gun, to which Gelhaus writes:
It's going to come down to YOUR ability to articulate to law enforcement and very likely the Court that you were in fear of death or serious bodily injury. I think we keep coming back to this, articulation -- your ability to explain why -- will be quite significant.In 1997, Gelhaus was charged with, but acquitted for, beating two Latino teenagers. Thus it is no surprise to see his name in the papers again.
And while some say that Andy Lopez shouldn't have been walking around with a toy gun, one should really take into account that the Sheriff's Department was encouraging children to play with REAL automatic weapons in a park not far from where Andy was shot and not long before Andy died.
Police Chief Tom Schwedhelm said the event gave officers chance to make non-traditional connections with the community. The goal of the SWAT display was to show people that these are some of the tools the police use to make this community safe, he said.
The Chief of Police went on to ask
At what age is it appropriate to start teaching kids about gun safety?â said Santa Rosa Police Chief Tom Schwedhelm. Some people, maybe in their personal lives, they didnât encounter guns until later in life. Other members of our community, children are seeing them at a much younger age.Apparently this all jibes with Erick Gelhaus prattling on about how terrified he was for his life, right? Sure. Okay...
So where were we? We were with Andy Lopez, walking around with a very common toy in his area, never having had any interaction of any significance with police before, and certainly not doing anything wrong, and Gelhaus flips the siren on for one second, shouts either "stand down" (what English-speaking eyewitnesses say) or "Drop your pistol" (What Spanish-speaking eyewitnesses say) either shoots from behind the door of the squad car, or, according to three eyewitnesses, from inside his car. The elapse time according to the autopsy for his eight shots was about ten seconds. Andy died after the first one or two, managing to scream in his young, not-yet-pubescent voice, "Stop!" before dying and being shot, bullets tearing his innocent flesh apart in rivulets down the street, seven more times. Seven bullets rip through his young body, killing him on the sleepy street. Andy died in front of four named eyewitnesses whose stories have all contradicted police accounts so far. I hope we hear from more.
In a few seconds, this child's life was ended because a grown man lived his entire life as if it were a perpetual combat zone, and I am not suggesting he had PTSD, for those with PTSD seem troubled by what happens if they go into a fugue state, by that loss of control. Since Gelhaus murdered Andy Lopez, and became part of a pattern or a continuum of excessive force leading to so-many tragic, unjust deaths in Sonoma County, he has never attempted to apologize to the family, he has gone into hiding, claiming people want to kill him, and he has continued to act as if he were playing war games on city streets. I have to wonder if he isn't halfway to Yreka by now on his paid time-off in a bunker with his wife, his dog, one sad old rifle, and twelve cans of baked beans, saying, "Check it out, darling! We're on Holiday now!"
You've all heard the details of the story, although I'm not sure they've been adequately connected together in this way.
And also, when I came to the march for Justice for Andy Lopez today, I was shocked to not see the biggest grassroots march in the country today (from what I understand) diaried on: Al Jazeera was there, KTVU, ABC, NBC, the Associated Press, but where was the Daily Kos diary?
The march was amazing. I should have brought sun screen. And it was lovely to meet a few more Kossacks (waves!). I've been to so many marches and protests in my life, but this one was unlike any other because it was so raw that it was an almost wholly organic expression of the pain that the community was feeling. All sorts of shenanigans had transpired last night to try to discredit the march organizers, a local group of Santa Rosans affiliated with Santa Rosa Junior College MECHA and a few other groups, and to scare parents out of letting their kids attend the march, which was a "walk-out-of-school-at-lunch" march meant to show solidarity and really just love for a middle-school friend who was killed. We wanted to give the kids the microphone where they could be heard. There was good, but hasty, planning, and it was very DIY. About twenty people or so bussed in from out of area, but I'm not entirely sure if that worked for many protesters since they did complain about feeling co-opted. The lawyer for Oscar Grant spoke. Alfredo Sanchez, of the UFW, spoke. Several members of the school board spoke. But most importantly, 1,000 children spoke.
At one point, I was at the very front of the barricade, and two little Latino girls were crying, four feet away from a SWAT-geared cop, helicopters doing whirligigs overhead, and they were shouting, "Why did you take him away from us? Why?" And the cops wore dark glasses so that you could not see their eyes. "WHY?" the girls shouted, their pain almost palpable, as I placed one hand on each of their shoulders, and they collapsed sobbing into one another. As they went to hug one another, out of the corner of my eye, I noticed a SWAT patrolman on the top of the roof pointing. And laughing. And another one who was filming turn his camera on them. Was he going to go home and play that? What was the laughing and filming weeping little girls for?
It's a systematic sickness that must be addressed.
After the march, someone posted online that she felt empowered by the march, but who was her message being sent to when city council shut down for the day, and only a cold, stone-faced battalion of officers who wouldn't speak sat Sphinx-like before her. To whom could she make an appeal.
And I didn't answer, but I thought long and hard about it, and I realized, "To ourselves, and to others in our communities."
I refuse to participate in a community that behaves this way.
Now I won't vote for anyone who stood by, heartless, but filled with formulaic and cowed thinking about the acts of police brutality culminating in the needless death of 13-year old Andy Lopez Cruz. I don't care if they're running a tight race if their moral compass is actually this broken. I wait for them to be pulled from the water's edge before concerning myself with them for now.
And for those who want to argue about the material details of the case, I say to you, attend a march and experience the material situation yourself; don't analogize one situation to another. This area is a bermuda triangle of police brutality, the likes of which you may have never seen, or if you have, in its own incarnation alone. It is our time to act, and ask Kossacks, I simply suggest that we are vigilant -- on any and all level, from micropolitics to macropolitics -- when the right hand is washing the left one.
And I would suggest that we never forget our own moral compass simply because it is an expedient moment to forget it for a while. Rather than torch our hair, I'd think sometimes we need to tear it out and throw it into the wind, that we need to think with our guts and sometimes with our heads, but always with a sense of not laws, but with ethics at the fore.
The sad thing is that there IS no justice for Andy Lopez Cruz. He's already dead. Nothing can fix that. The only justice we can hope for is that we can change the system that did this to him to break the cycle in any way.
Andy Lopez Cruz was buried tonight with almost 500 people in attendance, his mother holding the casket. Tomorrow, there will be another protest at 5-8pm, starting at Sebastopol road (just W. of Dutton) at the Albertson's in Santa Rosa, CA if you missed the one today. There will be more and more to come. Please, if you can come, do: this is a cultural touchstone of a generation, like protesting the Vietnam War; it may feel impossible, but we have to do it, or how can we face our own consciences's at night?
Donations are rough if you're out of area, but if you can make it to an Exchange Bank:
Bellevue Elementary School has set an "Andy Lopez Memorial Fund" at Exchange Bank. Cash or checks are accepted and this is the only authentic fund the family Is aware ofThis comes from the family itself, to pay for Andy's funeral.
I encourage all of you, with great love, to see firsthand what is happening with Santa Rosa, with Andy Lopez, and with the state of law enforcement here; I implore you to all find out more about your own understanding of white and brown, because you will hear, see, and experience the unspeakable, in a good sense.
I wish I could upload photos, but they're all over the internet and are much better than mine. Please post any you can find in the comments! I saw some good ones in the SF Chronicle, I think, and in the Press Democrat, which has me behind a pay wall right now. I have to be up early tomorrow, so I'd love to see this come to life in the comments!!!! The best picture I took was of a guy dressed up as Gandalf, for unknown reasons, and of a five-year old girl in a hijab with a bullhorn. She was too adorable for words, but she meant business too, yikes!
Photos courtesy of: http://www.seattlepi.com/... and Facebook (from the March for Andy Lopez page)
P.S. sorry if I've left any links off. I'll have to add them like tomorrow night if so since I'm working until then. Big ups. I'll be around for a few minutes before sleeping.
Also, sorry about the weird characters. That happens every time I try to edit a diary, which is why a big part of why I don't write diaries as often as I'd like... wish I knew what I was doing wrong with that!
12:41 AM PT: Trying to update with photo and video without much luck, groan. Please add to comments if you find any. KQED and NBCBayArea had great video both, but I can't get the embed code to work... groan.
John L. Burris, a civil rights attorney based in Oakland, told the crowd the turnout rivaled any crowd of protesters he had seen.I stand with John Burris in demanding accountability in regard to the murder of Andy Lopez Cruz, age 13.
"From my review of the facts, this officer should be prosecuted for murder," Burris said. "Demand accountability and results will occur," he said.