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.
Read all of the PD's fire coverage here