The Santa Rosa City Council's first opportunity to publicly discuss the Andy Lopez shooting Tuesday began with heartfelt messages of sympathy for the family and vows to prevent such a tragedy from happening again, but it veered into a tense debate over legal advice the council received to remain mum on the issue.
Mayor Scott Bartley opened the meeting with a "moment of quiet reflection on what we've experienced as a community" since the Oct. 22 shooting of the 13-year-old by a sheriff's deputy who mistook his BB gun for an assault rifle.
Then, in comments that mirrored those he gave at the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors meeting earlier in the day, Bartley called Lopez's death a "horrible tragedy" that has sparked calls for change that have been heard by city leaders.
"This community has really come together in many different levels ... to really bring this tragedy to a place where we could start a conversation," Bartley said.
All council members reflected on the impact the shooting has had on them and the community.
Vice Mayor Robin Swinth, a mother of two young children, said her "heart goes out" to the Lopez family and that the loss of a child is "everyone's worst nightmare." She said she is most concerned about how the shooting is affecting young people in the community.
"How we handle this reflects who we are and who we aspire to be," she said.
She expressed hope that the healing process can begin, but Councilman Gary Wysocky said he's not sure that can happen yet. He participated in last Tuesday's march from Old Courthouse Square to the Sonoma County Sheriff's Office, and, while relieved the protest was peaceful, he was "shocked" by the level of anger in the young people who took to the streets.
"I wish we were at a place where the healing can begin, because from what I've observed in the community through the events I attended, I think we've got a ways to go," he said. "These kids feel like they so don't have a chance. It's just what I saw."
Wysocky said he "played army" as a kid and never could have imagined having "10 seconds to react" to orders from law enforcement.
He called for an "open and transparent investigation" as a way to help eliminate the "us versus them" mentality" in the community.
He said the council needs to take steps to make all of southwest Santa Rosa "one entity," a reference to the long-stalled efforts to annex county areas such Roseland into city limits.
"That would go a long way I believe ... toward making those people feel like they are part of the city," Wysocky said.
Councilwoman Erin Carlstrom said that before now residents of Santa Rosa have been "watchers" of other incidents of gun violence across the nation, such as shootings in Aurora, Colo., and Newtown, Conn.
"We haven't just lost Andy Lopez; we've lost the innocence of our community," she said. "On Oct. 22 we stopped being watchers and we became one family reeling from this tragedy."
But when Councilwoman Julie Combs spoke, she brought up some issues the council wasn't ready to grapple with.
She said "our hearts are broken" and expressed hope that ways can be found to help more young people in southwest Santa Rosa feel more a part of the community.