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Close to Home: Deputy's return felt like 'slap in face'

  • Liz Cozine protests outside of where district attorney Jill Ravitch held a press conference at the Permit and Resources Management Department in response to the Andy Lopez decision Monday, July 7, 2014. (Christopher Chung/The Press Democrat)

On Monday night, members of the public packed the meeting of the Community Healing Subcommittee of the Community and Local Law Enforcement Task Force. They were there to express their dismay, sadness, anger and, above all, their fear for their children and for themselves.

These same feelings were expressed at the Board of Supervisors meeting the next day.

As a member of the Healing Subcommittee (Vázquez) and as a supervisor (Zane) we, too, felt blindsided when we learned that Deputy Erick Gelhaus would return to patrol duty this week and that, depending on staffing needs, he might also be patrolling the Moorland area where he shot 13-year-old Andy Lopez less than a year ago.

During the this week’s meeting I, Francisco, did my best to explain that it was clear that Sheriff Steve Freitas was “going by the book” in making that decision. This simply means according to established law and procedures. (Just as the Sonoma County district attorney went by the book in not filing any charges against Gelhaus.)

One member of the audience rightly questioned why the book could not be changed. The reply was that a strong community and active citizen engagement can indeed make those changes.

A larger view of the book is the social contract. Historically, we as individuals were willing to give up certain rights in return for social order within our own clan or culture.

Later, civilization brought different cultures under one roof with the promise that every one of them would be treated equally under the law. However, as Jean-Jacques Rousseau, the author of “The Social Contract: The Principles of Political Right” once observed: There are city, state, and national laws.

But the real law resides in the hearts of the people.

What this means is that the shooting of Andy Lopez, like the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., awakens the memory of a long history of injustices.

By choosing to go by the book, Freitas ignored this larger context. Furthermore, the manner in which the announcement was made, without consultation with the Board of Supervisors or the task force, has done serious, perhaps irreparable, damage to the tremendous amount of work that has been done in the past eight months.

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