In response to last month's shooting death of 13-year-old Andy Lopez, a group of local Latino leaders met with Sonoma County's top law enforcement officials Thursday and called on them to change a police culture which they believe views Latino communities as "war zones."
The plea was made during a forum organized by Los Cien, a Latino leadership group, to open a dialog after the shooting with Sonoma County District Attorney Jill Ravitch, Sheriff Steve Freitas and Santa Rosa Police Chief Tom Schwedhelm.
Irene Rosario, a Moorland Avenue resident who works as a field representative with SEIU Local 1021, said whenever police officers or sheriff's deputies enter such neighborhoods as Moorland Avenue, Steele Lane or South Park, "officers that come into the community already have a mindset that criminals are there and we need to get them."
Forum On Andy Lopez Shooting
"And I'm not saying they shouldn't do that, but I don't believe that mindset is that prevalent in other communities." she said. "And how do we address that?"
Mariano Guzman, a past president of the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and local business owner, said that while he appreciates the dangers law enforcement officers face daily, their attitudes toward members of the Latino community need to change.
"I could get stopped tomorrow — it doesn't matter who I am, it's what I look like — it's the attitude of that officer that comes to my window that scares me," said Guzman.
Lisa Maldonado, executive director of the North Bay Labor Council, said there is a perception in the Latino community that law enforcement actions are colored by their attitudes toward the Latino community.
"The community feels treated less like a neighborhood and more like a war zone," Maldonado said.
Both Schwedhelm and Freitas agreed that more steps must to be taken to build trust between local law enforcement and communities they police.
Freitas said he has tried to take measures to bridge that gap, citing the department's citizens academy and his "customer service" philosophy he stresses with deputies.