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Protesters mark Andy Lopez's birthday

  • Protestors leave the parking lot of the Dollar Tree along Sebastopol Road during a memorial march on Andy Lopez's birthday in Santa Rosa on Saturday, June 7, 2014. (Conner Jay/The Press Democrat)

Several dozen people celebrated what would have been Andy Lopez's 14th birthday Saturday with a march to downtown Santa Rosa and rally in memory of the slain teen.

Lopez was 13 when he was shot seven times Oct. 22 by a Sonoma County sheriff's deputy who told police he mistook the BB gun he was carrying for an AK-47 assault rifle. He would have turned 14 on June 2.

The rally began in the parking lot of the Dollar Tree on Sebastopol Road. Speakers expressed grief and outrage over his death, solidarity for his family, and demanded charges be filed against the deputy who shot him, Erick Gelhaus.

District Attorney Jill Ravitch is investigating the case and deciding whether Gelhaus will face criminal charges in the incident. Lopez's family has filed a federal civil suit against Gelhaus and the Sheriff's Office.

Several people involved in activist groups in other parts of the state also participated in the event, called "Not Forgotten — Andy Lopez Presente!" One from the Oakland-based group By Any Means Necessary urged the crowd to have an "angry and militant response" if Gelhaus is not charged.

Santa Rosa City Councilwoman Julie Combs praised protesters for pushing local leaders to make important changes. "This is the most American thing you can be doing right now," Combs said.

Participants banging drums, dancing and carrying photos of Lopez then marched from Sebastopol Road to the gathering in Old Courthouse Square.

There, a parade of speakers urged the crowd to continue their support for change. Local activist Robert Edmonds, who for years has protested what he says is excessive force by law enforcement, said Lopez's supporters have shown "the most sustained action I've see here."

"We're starting to see the system giving a little bit," Edmonds said. "But it's not going to continue unless we continue."

Edmonds is a member of the 21-member community task force established by the county in the wake of Lopez's death, and he urged supporters to continue voicing their concerns to the group, which is exploring establishing a independent citizen review body.

(You can reach Staff Writer Kevin McCallum at 521-5207 or at kevin.mccallum@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @citybeater.)

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