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Protesters plan afternoon march on Sheriff's Office


"People from all over the world are outraged at what happened, and someone is not going to be able to get to the demonstration from South Africa. But someone can get to there from south San Francisco," said Forrest Schmidt, a Bay Area activist with ANSWER Coalition.

Lopez is the youngest person to die in an officer-involved shooting in Sonoma County. His death one week ago Tuesday has sparked an unprecedented flood of anger and grief that has fueled almost daily marches, vigils and rallies.

Lopez was walking on Moorland Avenue in southwest Santa Rosa last Tuesday afternoon, carrying a BB gun designed to resemble an AK-47, when he was shot by a deputy who mistook the airsoft gun for an assault rifle.

Investigators have said the deputy, Erick Gelhaus, a 24-year veteran, told them that Lopez turned toward the deputy and his partner when they ordered him to drop the gun. As the boy turned, the barrel of his gun rose toward deputies, police said. Gelhaus fired eight shots, striking Lopez seven times, police said.

The march planned for today sprang from a Facebook page called "March for Andy Lopez" but has since taken on momentum of its own. The site was started by Donald Williams, co-president of the Second Chance Club at Santa Rosa Junior College, which tries to help people released from jail and prison get their lives back on track.

Williams, who stressed he is not the sole organizer of the event, said a number of groups are now involved.

"The community is really who gets credit for this spreading," he said.

Robert Edmonds, the student representative on the SRJC Board of Trustees and a local police accountability activist, said Sonoma County organizers recognize the need to maintain the safety of young students and any parents who may participate in Tuesday's march, particularly with outside forces involved.

"It makes people a little bit uneasy because they're not from here," Edmonds said. "We're different than Oakland. It will be harder if those people are planning to actively engage long-term."

Edmonds added that the "primary goal" is to support local youth who are struggling with issues such as the "loss of a friend, encounters with police, feelings of safety and also just trying to help them understand what it means to use their voice in a safe way so no one gets hurt."

He said local groups involved in the march include the North Bay Organizing Project, MEChA de SRJC, the Associated Students of Santa Rosa Junior College, Police Accountability Clinic and Helpline, or PACH, and others.

Groups coming in from out of town include organizers with the Justice 4 Alan Blueford campaign and representatives of the Statewide Coalition Against Police Brutality. Blueford, 18, died in an officer-involved shooting in Oakland last year, while the statewide coalition advocates for some 50 families that have lost family members in fatal encounters with law enforcement.

Christina Arechiga, an organizer with the coalition whose cousin was killed in 2011 by an officer from the Manteca Police Department, is among those planning to attend the march Tuesday.

Arechiga, who attended a march on the Sheriff's Office last Friday, said she's aware of local concerns about outsiders and that she's been in contact with local organizers.

"We're all on the same page," she said. "Our concern is the police. We don't want the police, because we have seen it before, to get aggressive with the protestors."

Demonstrators are expected to meet at two locations at about noon, at Old Courthouse Square and Santa Rosa Junior College. After a brief rally, demonstrators at Old Courthouse Square will head up Mendocino Avenue to meet with those at SRJC. From there demonstrators will continue up Mendocino Avenue to arrive at the Sheriff's Office at 3 p.m.

SRJC itself is providing a small sound system and microphone on the Outdoor Stage under the oaks, where graduations are usually held. The move is intended to support a number of school groups and organizations that are taking part in the event.

"Our intent is to have an open and safe sharing of ideas," said Ellen Maremont Silver, an SRJC spokeswoman. "This community event can be powerfully healing and productive. The college has a responsibility to serve our students and our educational mission, as well as to be an active member of the broader community in Sonoma County.

On Monday, county officials encouraged local residents to avoid the county administration building because of the demonstration, which could draw 900 to 1,500 people, they estimated.

"The County is actively planning with the City of Santa Rosa to help maintain safety during this event," county spokesman Peter Rumble said in a statement.

"The activity will likely impact normal daily operations at the County, starting at approximately 12:00 p.m. through the end of the day. Because of this increased level of activity, residents and visitors are encouraged to not come to the Administrative Center. The County advises to reschedule all non-urgent appointments."

The courthouse will also close at about noon, said Jose Guillen, Sonoma County Superior Court's executive officer. The court's 25 to 30 bailiffs will be available to help with security at the demonstration, he said.

Santa Rosa City Hall plans to close its offices to the public beginning at noon. Employees will remain on the job answering phones and email, but the doors to City Hall and the annex building will be locked to the public.

The City Council meeting will take place as planned beginning in closed session at 1 p.m. and the public session at 3:30 p.m. The council had been planning to hold its annual joint session with the Board of Education, but city officials decided to postpone that meeting until Dec. 17.

Routes for bus service through the Sonoma County Administrative Center will be modified from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday. Sonoma County Transit routes 20, 30, 44 and 48 will not serve the County Center, dropping passengers on Mendocino Avenue at Chanate Road.

"Passengers should expect delays on buses traveling the Mendocino Avenue corridor and arriving/departing from the downtown Santa Rosa Transit Mall," the county warned.

Santa Rosa Police Chief Tom Schwedhelm said that he wanted to encourage anyone attending the march to keep the event peaceful.

"We're asking people to be sensitive to our community. One of our concerns is that there may be people coming from outside the area that don't have the same value system that our residents do," Schwedhelm said.

He added, "We totally get that this community is grieving over this tragic incident but there is also public safety. I ask people, please do not turn to violence or inflict property damage. That does not help the situation at all."

Edmonds, the local police accountability activist, said there will be local "route marshals" along the route who will try to deal with any problems, maintain control and keep kids and parents safe.

Staff Writers Julie Johnson, Kevin McCallum and Paul Payne contributed to this report.