We don't just cover the North Bay. We live here.
Did You Know? In the first 10 days of the North Bay fire, nearly 1.5 million people used their mobile devices to visit our sites.
Already a subscriber?
Wow! You read a lot!
Reading enhances confidence, empathy, decision-making, and overall life satisfaction. Keep it up! Subscribe.
Already a subscriber?
Oops, you're out of free articles.
Until next month, you can always look over someone's shoulder at the coffee shop.
Already a subscriber?
We don't just cover the North Bay. We live here.
Did You Know? In the first 10 days of the North Bay fire, we posted 390 stories about the fire. And they were shared nearly 137,000 times.
Already a subscriber?
Supporting the community that supports us.
Obviously you value quality local journalism. Thank you.
Already a subscriber?
Oops, you're out of free articles.
We miss you already! (Subscriptions start at just 99 cents.)
Already a subscriber?

The "Follow This Story" feature will notify you when any articles related to this story are posted.

When you follow a story, the next time a related article is published — it could be days, weeks or months — you'll receive an email informing you of the update.

If you no longer want to follow a story, click the "Unfollow" link on that story. There's also an "Unfollow" link in every email notification we send you.

This tool is available only to subscribers; please make sure you're logged in if you want to follow a story.



Please note: This feature is available only to subscribers; make sure you're logged in if you want to follow a story.


It is easy to draw comparisons between Ferguson, Mo., and Santa Rosa, Calif.

In both cities, two teenagers were shot and killed by local law enforcement officers, leaving communities torn apart, grief-stricken and angry.

Calls for police accountability and justice rose from neighborhoods, though 2,000 miles apart, where cries of discrimination and economic and social injustice were frequent refrains. In both places, people took to the streets.

“When you have that kind of lack of diversity (on the Ferguson police force) . . . and you have the other statistics about who gets arrested the most, who gets charged the most when you go to court, who gets longer sentences, and you add the lack of jobs, lack of investment, then, yes, of course it’s going to explode in your face,” said Francisco Vázquez, a Sonoma State University professor and a member of the county’s Community and Local Law Enforcement Task Force.

But despite the similarities, the aftermath of the tragic shootings has played out very differently on the streets of Ferguson, where 18-year-old Michael Brown was killed Aug. 9, and Santa Rosa, where 13-year-old Andy Lopez was slain in October.

In Ferguson, protests turned violent, businesses were damaged, looted or destroyed and numerous people were arrested. In Santa Rosa, the many protests and demonstrations that took place since Lopez was shot 10 months ago have been for the most part peaceful, with minimal property damage and few arrests.

There is no one reason for these very different outcomes, and it’s clear that it is more than just distance that separates the two communities, even as they share similar grief and anger.

The fury and chaos in Ferguson has led local law enforcement officials, community leaders and police accountability activists to take a fresh look at the Lopez protests and the many efforts made in Sonoma County to prevent them from exploding into violence.

Many point to the legacy of the Cinco de Mayo street clashes that erupted annually in Santa Rosa’s Roseland neighborhood, until a 2005 riot prompted law enforcement and the Latino community to search for new ways to deescalate tensions and attempt to address problems that divided the city.

In the days that followed the Lopez shooting, emotions ran high and many feared the demonstrations would turn violent. At one point, Santa Rosa officials canceled a City Council meeting and shut down City Hall because of a protest two blocks away at Old Courthouse Square.

But early on, many who participated in the protests made efforts to avoid violence. This included the Lopez family, who frequently pleaded through social media websites like Facebook to keep the demonstrations peaceful, and liberal activists, who quickly adopted the family’s cause and counseled protesters on strategy and tactics. In addition, local law enforcement agencies applied lessons from the 2005 clashes and worked to keep a tense situation from escalating.

During the first protests, parents Sujey and Rodrigo Lopez often wore white shirts to honor their son. Later, when outside activists organized a late-night demonstration in downtown Santa Rosa and asked participants to wear black and cover their faces, local Lopez activists feared the event would be dominated by anarchists and become violent, endangering the young students who marched in outrage at the slaying of a fellow teen.

Outside organizers eventually withdrew their request for people to wear black, out of respect for the Lopez family.

Members of the Peace and Justice Center of Sonoma County, along with seasoned west county activists and other liberal groups, jumped in to help organize the demonstrations and publicity campaigns. Susan Lamont, coordinator of the Peace and Justice Center, gave adult protesters classes in nonviolence, while Forrest Schmidt, a Bay Area activist with ANSWER Coalition, provided much of the security for the protest, handing out bright-colored safety vests and training young protesters as security personnel.

“We did what we could to protect the kids without stifling their need to express their anger and sadness,” said Michael Rothenberg, a member of the Justice Coalition for Andy Lopez, or JCAL. “We always went with them to demonstrations.”

More recently, a conciliation specialist from the U.S. Department of Justice was dispatched to Santa Rosa to train dozens of “goodwill ambassadors” to act as peacemakers should tensions flare between protesters and the police.

For their part, local law enforcement agencies have tried to minimize chances of street clashes during demonstrations and protests by making riot gear and tactical equipment less visible, said acting Santa Rosa Police Chief Hank Schreeder, who was a sergeant in the middle of the 2005 confrontation.

“It’s a lesson learned from our history. It’s automatically antagonistic,” Schreeder said. “What you try to do is have a lot of stuff going on in the background.”

The demonstrations in Ferguson and Santa Rosa both were fueled by racial grievances that long have fractured this country.

Ida Johnson, a member of the executive committee of the Santa Rosa-Sonoma County NAACP, said the events in Ferguson are a “rerun” of the racial and economic divides that sparked the civil rights movement of the 1960s.

“The racial issues are covert, buried if you will,” Johnson said. “We don’t talk about it openly; we don’t have the signs that say, ‘Colored Only’ or ‘White Only,’ but it’s there, it’s just buried.”

These issues that have never been fully resolved are spilling out onto the streets in Ferguson and Santa Rosa, though in different dimensions and in ways shaped by the history of the people in each city, she said.

African-Americans, who comprise almost 65 percent of the population in Ferguson, are an extremely cohesive and organized group with a long history of aggressive civil protest, Johnson said. Latinos, who make up 29 percent of the population in Santa Rosa, are only now “coming into their own,” she said.

Johnson, who has spent many years working with Latino schoolchildren in Santa Rosa, said many local Latinos come from immigrant families whose desire to express outrage over the Lopez shooting may be tempered by fears over their immigration status.

Ana Salgado, a member of JCAL who frequently has participated in local protests, said immigration fears are real. Eight years ago, Sonoma County’s immigrant community, in staggering numbers, joined millions across the country in demonstrations aimed at lobbying Congress to revamp immigration policies, Salgado said.

But since then, she said, under President Barack Obama, a record number of undocumented immigrants have been detained and deported. The result, she said, is that many Latino immigrant families now are too scared to participate in civil protests.

“Here in Sonoma County, there are many people that have been deported. Now people are scared,” she said, speaking in Spanish. “Families have been separated.”

Salgado said the often-modest turnout during the Lopez protests also is a result of a lack of leadership among local Latinos. Local Latinos with the “strongest voices,” she said, have not been as vocal about the Lopez shooting as she and other demonstrators had hoped for.

“We lack unity as a community,” she said.

Sonoma County Sheriff Steve Freitas declined to speak directly to a reporter on the issue of similarities and differences between the two shootings. Freitas, speaking through a Sheriff’s Office spokeswoman, said there were “limited verifiable details” about the incident in Ferguson and that he does not believe the two events are “comparable.”

Sgt. Cecile Focha, a Sheriff’s Office spokeswoman, said Freitas was “pleased” that protests to the Lopez shooting have been largely peaceful and that the local community should be proud of that. Focha said Freitas also commends sheriff’s deputies and staff for their “professionalism.”

Vázquez said Mexican-Americans in the United States have historically responded to social injustices less aggressively than African-Americans.

Vázquez said he was in East Los Angeles in 1970 participating in the National Chicano Moratorium March, which spiraled into rioting when police and protesters clashed. The violence claimed the life of Los Angeles Times columnist and former Press Democrat reporter Ruben Salazar, who was struck in the head by a tear gas round as he sat in a bar taking a break from the chaos outside.

Vázquez said such clashes are not commonplace in the Latino community.

And yet it wasn’t that long ago when riot gear, smoke canisters and rubber pellets were a perennial occurrence in Santa Rosa. Between 2002 and 2005, impromptu Cinco de Mayo cruising and street celebrations in Santa Rosa had been marked by an increasing police presence and violent confrontations between police and Latino youth.

The street clashes with police had become in many ways the night’s main event.

In 2005, the last year of Cinco de Mayo street skirmishes, the scene was very much warlike, with flares lighting up Sebastopol Road and the parking lot of the old Albertsons shopping center, as aluminum smoke canisters flew through the air and rubber projectiles bounced forcefully along the asphalt.

Schreeder vividly recalls those days.

The Santa Rosa police chief was on the corner of Sebastopol Road and Dutton Avenue with other officers in 2005 when he was struck by a piece of broken concrete the size of a baseball. The face shield of his helmet protected him from the blow.

That night, he said, was a “tipping point” that would change the nature of protests within the Latino community and the way local law enforcement agencies responded to street demonstrations. Law enforcement officials re-examined their policing tactics, while local community leaders and nonprofit organizations became involved in the creation of a formal Cinco de Mayo event in Santa Rosa’s Roseland neighborhood.

Caroline Bañuelos, chairwoman of the Community and Local Law Enforcement Task Force, which was launched by the county in response to the Lopez shooting, was among the key organizers of the Roseland Cinco de Mayo event. The celebration was partly a way of building bridges between local law enforcement and the Latino community.

Some of those bridges have been damaged by the Lopez shooting and will need to be repaired, she lamented.

“I know that the relationship has been broken and all the work we’ve done over the years has been undone,” Bañuelos said.

You can reach Staff Writer Martin Espinoza at 521-5213 or martin. espinoza@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @renofish.

Show Comment