<I>"This death culture cannot imagine solutions that do not bleed."

— Poet Diane di Prima</I>

In May 2000, the California advisory committee to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights released a report on our local law enforcement. It contained many recommendations to reduce the violence coming from that law enforcement.

If our sheriff and police departments had taken this seriously, instead of hoping we'd forget, might Andy Lopez be alive today? Might Jeremiah Chass? The many others?

I am proud to have a letter to the editor, printed by the New York Times and written in 1932 by my great-grandfather John F. Schindler, which states that sheriff's deputies should not be issued guns, because deputies would end up killing innocent people.

And let me point out, there has not been a killing of local police or deputies in Sonoma County in 15 years and only seven in 125 years. The first occurred in 1888 — during the ambush of a stagecoach.

The United States has always preferred force for dealing with its "problems," but not all countries have followed that path. Last year, in Iceland, law enforcement killed its first civilian ever. The man was armed and was firing at police, yet the police department immediately issued a statement of regret and offered its condolences to the man's family.

Some will say that is because Iceland has a homogeneous population. I say one of the reasons our law enforcement resorts to force so often is not because we are diverse but because we fear our diversity.

I also have a photograph of my great-grandmother Isabelle Campbell Schindler marching for the vote for women. I can be certain that there were times, during completely peaceful marches, when she encountered that era's equivalent of our SWAT teams — armed police on horseback.

Why would police or deputies greet peaceful marchers with a display of weaponry, as they have recently in Sonoma County? Because governments consider their citizens and change to be their enemies.

Governments are almost always on the wrong side of history. Many people in government have forgotten, if they ever knew, what government is supposed to be about. Government is about making life better for people. What a concept. Making life better for people — right down to the poorest, down to the ones who don't think like you do, even down to the undocumented.

After a surge in killings of civilians by law enforcement in Sonoma County, the California advisory committee of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights came to the county in 1998 to study the situation. Its aforementioned report was highly critical, and the commission made many recommendations.

Recently, I attended the Santa Rosa City Council's study session on the report, in which Acting Police Chief Hank Schreeder and City Attorney Caroline Fowler were asked to give an accounting of how much progress had been made in the intervening 14 years.

I listened as Schreeder listed changes that were so incremental as to be statistically irrelevant. Fowler spoke not in terms of lives saved but money protected from lawsuits. Our representatives and government staff spend so much time on the issue of money that it appears people are merely a nuisance nipping at their heels.

This report should have been priority one. It wasn't, because most in government have forgotten what, in their hearts, they are supposed to be about. If they had made it a priority, I ask again, how many of the 56 civilians killed since it was issued would be alive today?

Such callousness! Yet there are those who don't understand the righteous anger which must continue to exist after the killing of an unarmed and completely innocent 13-year-old, Andy Lopez, by a deputy, Erick Gelhaus, who lived and breathed weapons.

So, in the days after the death of Pete Seeger — someone who stood up for the people in struggles against the powerful and who was vilified for it by his government — I want to remember him by asking, "When will you ever learn?"

Susan C. Lamont is coordinator of the Peace &amp; Justice Center of Sonoma County.