(Friends of Andy Lopez carry his coffin into Resurrection Parish during his funeral ceremony in Santa Rosa on Tuesday, October 29, 2013. Photo: Conner Jay/The Press Democrat/AP Images)

Opinion: We should not forget Andy Lopez

I am now cynical enough to believe that whenever a Latino dies under suspicious actions by law enforcement, the lack of national outrage no longer surprises me. Cases such as David Sal Silva’s in-custody death or Anastasio Hernandez Rojas’ Border Patrol death raised serious issues about the excessive use of deadly force, yet how many people in this country really knew or cared about those tragedies? How many national Latino organizations shouted in front of TV cameras that justice be served? Where was the 24/7 coverage?

The latest example comes from Santa Rosa, California. On October 22, 13-year-old Andy Lopez was shot seven times in a span of about 26 seconds by Sonoma County deputy Erick Gelhaus after Gelhaus, who started shooting before his partner even got out of the patrol car, saw that Lopez was carrying what appeared to be an assault rifle. According to police, Gelhaus warned Lopez twice to put his weapon down. Gelhaus still fired off eight shots and hit Lopez seven times. It all happened in less than 30 seconds, from the time a report of a “suspicious person” made to the time emergency vehicles arrived at the scene.

In the end, Andy Lopez’s rifle was a toy pellet gun, which the deputy mistook for an assault rifle.

The death led to protests from the Santa Rosa community. The FBI has also gotten involved, and Lopez’s family filed claims. The story is not going away, but the cynic in me believes that no one outside of Santa Rosa cares.

Yes, I completely understand that Lopez was carrying something that looked like a weapon, and I know that police are trained to respond. But did Gelhaus have to shoot Lopez seven times? Did Lopez have to die?

Gelhaus is an Iraq War veteran and a firearms instructor, according to NBC News.  His partner was still in the patrol car.

Why seven times?

To try and comprehend the Lopez case, I had an email exchange with Laura Gonzalez, a board member of the Santa Rosa City Schools Board of Education who has taken a leadership role in the events.

When I asked Gonzalez about how the Santa Rosa community is feeling, she wrote, “Right now the anger, hurt and sadness are still raw, and there are vigils, marches still happening and being planned. As we have  been coming together as a community to stand in support and faith with the Lopez family, we need to look at where we go from here.”

Gonzalez also shared ideas that are coming out of Santa Rosa since the shooting occurred. She admitted that there is indeed “a  divide between the Latino community and law enforcement.”

“The Sheriff, and other law enforcement have said they’re not sure that this incident will create a wider chasm,” Gonzalez wrote, “but they acknowledge that relationships have been strained.”

One of the bigger issues, Gonzalez noted, was that law enforcement needs to “know the neighborhoods they patrol, not just that it’s ‘high gang/crime activity,’  but where people and kids hang out.” The field where Lopez was, according to locals, a place where kids routinely play with these BB guns.

And yes, Gonzalez emphasized, “public safety education about these toy guns.”

Nonetheless, the Lopez case has seemed to galvanize the Santa Rosa community.

“Public reaction to the tragedy will also be based, partially, on how transparent people think the investigation is and how forthcoming the Sheriff is with his findings,” Gonzalez wrote. “I personally think that Deputy Gelhaus will be found to have acted in a reasonable manner.  How the larger community will react to this is a big question.”

The same goes for Latinos all over the country. I wonder when more will look at the Lopez case and say, “I am Andy Lopez and my life matters.”

Comments

  1. Reblogged this on Franky Benítez and commented:

    My latest for NBC Latino

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