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Protesters plan afternoon march on Sheriff's Office

  • Brian Palominos, 13, walks by graffiti memorializing Andy Lopez near to where he was shot and killed by a Sonoma County Sheriff's deputy in Santa Rosa on Monday, October 28, 2013. Palominos attended Lawrence Cook Middle School with Lopez. (Conner Jay/The Press Democrat)

"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."

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