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Dozens of community members and activists Tuesday issued a broad call for action as the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors held its first public discussion of the fatal shooting Oct. 22 of 13-year-old Andy Lopez by a sheriff's deputy.

Decrying what they said was a shattered relationship with law enforcement, speaker after speaker called for a potent, citizen-driven inquiry into the shooting and deeper engagement by local government in neighborhoods they said long have been overlooked.

The boy's death, in a hail of bullets fired by a veteran county peace officer, was just the latest, tragic symbol of that neglect, they said.

"Many hearts have been broken. Trust has been broken," said Jose Castaneda of Windsor. "It is time that people in positions of power see reality as it is and not as they want it to be."

The 3?-hour meeting featured emotional testimony from county supervisors, student leaders, representatives of the Latino community and others.

Many said the fatal shooting represented a pivotal moment for Sonoma County, exposing chronic disparities in education and economic opportunity, rifts widened by divides in class, ethnicity and political representation.

Supervisor Mike McGuire called the discussion a "hard look in the mirror."

"We cannot be silent about the gaps that exist in our neighborhoods," he said. "Silence has no place in this process."

Many speakers lobbied for strong community oversight of law enforcement, especially in cases of deaths caused by police use of force.

"The citizens of Sonoma County and now the world are watching to see if our local public officials take a stand for accountability, transparency, (and restoring) the public trust," said Curtis Byrd, a Santa Rosa planning commissioner and city council candidate who comes from a family long active in civil rights issues.

Supervisors said they intended the meeting as the beginning of a conversation on how to move forward from the shooting and address the issues it has raised.

"What kind of a community do we want to live in and how do we make sure that this doesn't happen again?" David Rabbitt, the board chairman, said at the start of the meeting. "I don't know what the answers are going to be. There are no easy answers. But it forces us to ask the hard questions."

The board later endorsed several steps, including a study of civilian-review panels for officer-involved shootings, to be led by a task force of community leaders appointed from each supervisorial district.

Lopez, an eighth-grader and son of Mexican immigrants, was shot and killed by Sonoma County Sheriff's Deputy Erick Gelhaus when the deputy apparently mistook the BB gun the boy was carrying, one made to look like an AK-47, for a real assault rifle.

Supervisor Susan Gorin came to tears describing her reaction to the shooting and its aftermath, marked by a continuous series of vigils and protests crisscrossing Santa Rosa. On Tuesday afternoon, marchers passed by the board chambers en route to the District Attorney's Office.

"As a mother, I want to wrap my arms around the Lopez family and tell you how sad it is as a community that we've lost your son," Gorin said.

She later urged the board to redouble its commitment to gun legislation, including proposals that would more closely govern and restrict the sale and manufacture of replica firearms.

Persistent problems

Speakers from the Latino community made some of the strongest calls for action, saying the shooting punctuated problems long ignored by local government.

Castaneda, the Windsor resident, spoke of neighborhoods marginalized by ethnicity and socioeconomic status and a police bureaucracy "that seems to act as predator to the people it is meant to protect and serve."

Lopez was killed in the same block on Moorland Avenue where he grew up, a mostly working-class neighborhood in an unincorporated area of southwest Santa Rosa that residents and law enforcement say has had its problems with gang activity and other crime.

It is one of the poorest and most heavily Latino areas of the county, according to school and census data.

Several community leaders said a focus on those factors, in Lopez' case at least, mask what one speaker called "an American tragedy."

"Look at this as an American tragedy," Gustavo Mendoza, a local leader with California Youth Outreach, said of Lopez' shooting. "The quicker that we can do that together as a group, the quicker we can do what we consider to be morally right and get to what we consider justice."

Others said Lopez' death was a direct result of his skin color and where he lived, part of a knee-jerk reaction by law enforcement.

"I don't give a crap; it is divided," said Alfredo Sanchez, a Santa Rosa resident and father of 10 children. He contrasted the reaction of law enforcement in the Lopez shooting, an encounter that spanned 10 seconds before shots, and a recent 11-hour standoff with a gun-wielding resident of Santa Rosa's upscale Fountaingrove neighborhood. He was taken into custody unharmed.

"Over here on this other side of town, (the life of) a kid with a toy was taken," Sanchez said. "Not a gun. It was a toy."

Like others in the past two weeks, he vowed political action "if this is not taken care of."

His comments drew applause from the standing-room-only audience.

Esmerelda Gonzalez, a representative of MEChA of Santa Rosa Junior College, a student political and educational group, presented a list of five demands to the board and District Attorney Jill Ravitch, whose office is overseeing and assisting the shooting investigation being led by Santa Rosa police.

Gonzalez called for a transparent investigation, the creation of a community board with subpoena power that can review police shootings, education on civilian rights when dealing with law enforcement, improved training of officers in dealing with diverse communities and a park to be created as a memorial to Lopez at the site of his death.

"As youth and leaders of our community, we will not stand for such an incident to occur again," Gonzalez said.

Officials weigh in

The meeting featured comments from several elected and appointed local officials, including Santa Rosa Mayor Scott Bartley, Santa Rosa City Schools Superintendent Socorro Shiels and Santa Rosa school board member Jenni Klose.

Bartley pledged Santa Rosa's participation in the conversation going forward. City elected officials have so far been largely silent in the aftermath of the shooting.

"While the incident did occur outside the city limits, we recognize the issue is not one defined by such arbitrary borders," Bartley said. "We will, and must, learn and change."

Supervisor Efren Carrillo, whose district includes the Moorland neighborhood, voiced support for creation of a park in the county-governed area. He also lobbied for the long proposed annexation by Santa Rosa of Roseland, the area just to the north of Lopez' neighborhood, a move that would bring additional city services.

"This is not just an issue that's affected one community," Carrillo said, ticking off a list of poorer, mostly Latino neighborhoods around the county he said are affected by higher unemployment and less access to health care and education. "We do have some soul-searching to do."

Supervisor Shirlee Zane introduced the recommendation to study civilian review panels, a step called for more than a decade ago by local activists in the wake of a series of fatal officer-involved shootings. The board is set to make its appointments to the task force studying the issue by December.

Zane also pushed for greater county spending on community policing in disadvantaged neighborhoods. "We need to get our deputies out of the car and onto the streets and getting to know the people in those neighborhoods," she said.

Sheriff's officials did not speak at the meeting. Several supervisors described it as a "devastating" incident for the office and the two deputies involved. The name of the deputy with Gelhaus at the time of the shooting has not been disclosed.

"It's a tragedy all the way around. I think we all acknowledge that," Rabbitt said.

The morning began with an invocation by Bishop Robert Vasa, head of Santa Rosa's Catholic Diocese. He said those present Tuesday were gathered "to try to make sense of that which cries out to us as senseless."

"We look for understanding and all we find is dark confusion," Vasa said. He ended with a prayer for fortitude, temperance and the "grace to be true brothers and sisters without borders."

Irene Rosario, a longtime Moorland Avenue resident, said the pattern of neglect would not be reversed by words alone.

"To have a child shot in a place where there should have been a park is really a tragedy," Rosario said to supervisors. "I would say thank you for having this forum, but it's your responsibility. It's your responsibility to look out for this community. And I hope you actually take action and do something. Words are easy. It's action that counts."

You can reach Staff Writer

Brett Wilkison at 521-5295 or brett.wilkison@pressdemocrat.com.