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Andy Lopez slaying tops progressives' meeting


Nearly 800 people filled the Sonoma Academy gym Sunday evening in Santa Rosa to rally for progressive community issues, such as immigration overhaul, new efforts to keep kids in school and better access to public transit.

Yet grief over the shooting death of 13-year-old Andy Lopez surfaced throughout the meeting of the North Bay Organizing Project, which contains members from various local nonprofit, religious and activist groups. And it peaked when Graton Rancheria Chairman Greg Sarris presented the Lopez family with a check for $8,000.

From the podium, Rep. Mike Thompson, D-St. Helena, told the audience filling the gymnasium bleachers at the foot of Taylor Mountain that before he spoke about immigration changes, he would "reflect on the tragic shooting that's truly rocked our community."

On the afternoon of Oct. 22, a Sonoma County sheriff's deputy shot and killed Lopez, who had been walking on Moorland Avenue carrying an airsoft gun designed to look like an AK-47 assault rifle. Investigators said the deputy believed the gun was real.

"We are going to need a transparent investigation into this tragedy," Thompson said. "While there is no good in this tragedy, I know that a compassionate and caring community together can get through this."

The crowd stood in applause, including Lopez's parents, Sujay and Rodrigo Lopez, and his siblings, who filled folding chairs in the front row.

The meeting was the latest in near-daily community events where people have expressed grief and outrage over Lopez's death. The shooting has sparked vigils at the vacant lot where Lopez was killed at the corner of Moorland and West Robles avenues. Teens and others have taken to the streets for at least five marches and rallies demanding a thorough investigation.

At Sunday's meeting, North Bay Organizing Project president Leticia Romero said in her opening remarks that she wanted to recognize how the shooting of Lopez "is indicative of what's not working in our society."

"The community is mourning and, at the same time, rejoicing for all the work that has been done," Romero said. "We will no longer be spectators."

The emotion in the room was palpable when Sarris presented Lopez's brother, Anthony Lopez, 17, with the check.

Sarris said the tribe gives each tribal family $8,000 when a loved one dies. The shooting felt personal to many members of the tribal council, which agreed to give the Lopez family the same sum they give their own, Sarris said.

"You are members of our community and our family; I give you what we give everyone else in our tribe," Sarris said.

He gave Lopez's brother the check and the two embraced on stage. Lopez wiped away tears as he walked back to his seat.

At the podium, Sarris championed the tribe's casino, slated to open to the public Tuesday, and the tribe's growing influence in the community.

"To the public officials here today: You better listen. You better come to our side of town and listen because now I've got what you always had: It's called money," Sarris said.

Between tearful hugs later with people leaving the meeting, Sujay Lopez, Andy's mother, said she was grateful for the financial donations to her family, but that her mind was focused on one thing.

"I don't care about the money. I only want justice for my son," she said.

Local elected officials at the meeting included Sonoma County supervisors Susan Gorin, Efren Carrillo, Shirlee Zane and David Rabbitt; Santa Rosa City Council members Julie Combs and Gary Wysocky, and Sebastopol Mayor Michael Kyes, among others.

The annual event held by the group is a time for members to reflect on issues they voted to address that year and talk about what is next.

Speakers delved into the Santa Rosa city schools effort, new this year, to address expulsion rates through restorative justice and on the efforts to improve bus service and other public transit concerns.

Thompson outlined his platform for immigration overhaul.

After the two-hour event, Romero, the group's president, said she hoped the community will start having conversations about what concrete things they can do following Lopez's death.

"What does justice look like? We hope people can start to be able to articulate that," she said. "Is it money being funneled into parks? Is it money funneled to that community, into the schools?"

Anthony Lopez said he has a clear vision of what justice would feel like for him: That the deputy who shot and killed his brother be held accountable in criminal court.

Yet as people left the gymnasium, he said he had never attended an event like that or felt the attention from powerful people like Sarris.

"It was heartwarming to see everyone come together like that," he said. "I felt so welcome."

Today, the Lopez family is expected to file a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in San Francisco contending that Sonoma County Sheriff's Deputy Erick Gelhaus shot Lopez "without reasonable cause," according to the family's attorney.

They have already made similar allegations in a tort claim filed Thursday with Sonoma County.

You can reach Staff Writer Julie Johnson at 521-5220 or julie.johnson@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @jjpressdem.