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Close to Home: Go beyond blame in Andy Lopez case

  • Protesters block traffic along Mendocino Avenue while protesting the death of Andy Lopez in Santa Rosa on Tuesday, December 10, 2013. (Conner Jay/The Press Democrat)

During the past three months, Santa Rosa became the eye of a hurricane in the national news due to the tragic death of Andy Lopez. This relatively unknown town was not in the news because of a great discovery. In fact, it made headlines for all the wrong reasons.

Santa Rosa called for justice in the midst of a misfortune that brought attention to many controversial social issues. Various marches took place, in which classes were left empty as students walked out to protest peacefully, while shouting such a broad word as "justice." People of all social classes, races, genders and ages marched and took a stand, but three questions sparked my interest.

Why is it that our police officers are trained to "shoot to kill"? Why is it that our younger generations yearn for violent entertainment, such as toy guns, to feel happy? Why is it that whenever a lawsuit is filed, as is in this case, the compensation for a lost life is usually millions of dollars?

Everyone has the right to feel how they desire, but the fact is that this tragedy will not be erased with the money that the lawyer of the Lopez family expects to obtain. The pain of family and friends, as well as the rest of the community undoubtedly exceeds the confusion that this tragedy left behind. But money will not erase that pain. It will not unravel the confusion, and it certainly will not revive Andy Lopez.

If there is such a thing as justice, this "solution" does not fall under it. I propose that after a close and transparent investigation of what occurred, such money should instead be put toward constructing a more unified Santa Rosa and preventing further tragedies from occurring.

The First Amendment gives protesters the right to express themselves. While the Second Amendment allows U.S residents the right to bear arms, it also implies that authority figures protecting a community should use them with reason. Nowhere does it state the right to bear toy guns.

Perhaps the First Amendment would support that Andy Lopez was within his rights by carrying that BB gun, but the minute he started to turn around, instead of putting it down immediately, the officer reacted, and Andy was perceived as a threat.

I do not agree that a 13-year-old boy's life should have been taken away in less than 10 seconds. I consider that excessive force and impulse. This boy's life deserved a second warning, the presence of the second officer, and more than 10 seconds. I believe that although respected, this veteran acted as an individual not as a member of a team. And just as the officer should not have shot so rapidly, with so much force, Andy should not have been carrying that unconcealed toy gun in the first place.

This community awaits a verdict and marches may continue, but this is something that we have to work to solve as a community, as a society. Some residents of Santa Rosa took it upon themselves to attend a Santa Rosa City Council last month to voice their opinion as to what should happen in regards to Deputy Erick Gelhaus and future situations like this. In a Press Democrat story ("Residents air Lopez grievances," Jan. 15) it was emphasized that "residents demanded an independent investigation be performed, and ... raised questions about the ability of the Santa Rosa Police Department's to conduct an impartial investigation in the shooting."

Santa Rosa residents demand that what is decided in the name of justice is not shielded from them, whether it is now or in the future. Regardless of who is to blame, people want to be able to trust their law enforcement. They want catastrophes like this to allow them a voice and to be part of making crucial decisions. As with annexing Roseland, they do not want the decision to be made for them.

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