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Andy Lopez - Public Vents - Supervisors Listen


Andy Lopez - Public Vents
- Supervisors Listen

By Vesta Copestakes

Tuesday, January 7th was an opportunity for the public to speak their hearts and minds to the Board of Supervisors who are among the few people in Sonoma County who can DO something in the aftermath of the killing of Andy Lopez.

A group calling themselves the Justice Coalition for Andy Lopez gathered people together in meetings prior to the public hearing to devise the agenda of what they hope to accomplish and what changes they want to see. 

Put your gun away! protestors signs

So far the BOS has approved a park on the site of the Andy Lopez memorial where he was killed, and formed the long-sought-after Community and Local Law Enforcement Task Force. These two actions are among approximately 20 actions the board has enacted to address the killing of Andy Lopez. The public comment period today was an opportunity to define what people want to see happen in response to this killing. 

People from out of the community have become part of the movement for what they see as justice. One of the reasons for their involvement is the similarity they see in the killing of Andy Lopez with other police killings that might have been avoided. Since the year 2000, there have been 37 civilian deaths from interactions with local law enforcement in Sonoma County. Many people feel that these deaths would not have occurred if the county had implemented recommendations for changes in law enforcement that came out of the California Advisory Committee on the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights

Among the changes that have not been implemented are increased cultural, gender and language diversity in law enforcement personnel; more training for diffusing situations and de-escalating violence; independent review of incidents involving deadly force; increased oversight of law enforcement agencies; and change in policies to expand use of alternatives to deadly force. Many of these policies are in place in other cities, states and countries and the result is less civilian deaths.

Women in White connect through empathy

Among those attending the public hearing were a group of women who represent mothers who have lost children to law enforcement interactions. Calling themselves Mothers in White, they associate themselves with the Women in Black movement that keeps world-wide attention on incidents of violence and death as a way to increase awareness of the destruction violence impacts on society. As women rose to tell their stories and express their empathy, reactions ran from tears to anger.

Elbert Big Man Howard reads his statement

Some people testified with prepared statements, such as Mary Moore, Elbert Big Man Howard (see below) , Magick Altman (see below) and Elaine Holtz. Others shouted anger, raged at injustice, or quietly expressed their frustrations and pain. 53 people had filled out comment cards and many ran over the three-minute time limits. By 4:40 the room nearly emptied to follow the Lopez family lawyer, Arnoldo Casillas, to the office next door where he filed an amendment to the lawsuit against the County and deputy Erick Gelhaus for wrongful death with a request for a jury trial.

Mother who lost daughter expresses her empathyUltimately this is the action many people present would like to see…changes in how law enforcement deals with the public, and the prosecution of Erick Gelhaus. Throughout the hours of comments, which continued after the legal case was filed, the Board of supervisors listened attentively and made little comment. People started asking for more interaction, but the nature of this gathering was intensely emotional and not conducive to back-and-forth discussion. It was an opportunity to express pain and frustration in hopes of inspiring action.

Nothing can bring Andy Lopez back to life, but if changes can be enacted that prevent future deaths through interactions with law enforcement, than much of what people hope to accomplish will happen. Much of the pain and frustration expressed today is preventable, but only through policy change and societal awareness of everyone’s role in this story will change come about. Pointing fingers and making accusations feels good at the moment but it accomplishes little toward the common goal.

As legal proceedings take their long path toward resolution, people can continue to look at ways that Andy’s death can be used to increase awareness so that he doesn’t become another lost life that accomplished nothing. From changing the way toy guns are manufactured to changing the way people believe toy guns are innocent playthings, there are many opportunities to bring about positive change from this negative situation. 


Sam Euston interviews Arnoldo Casillas, attorney for the Lopez familySam Euston is working on a documentary of the Andy Lopez killing and has posted a video of his interview with Arnoldo Casillas, attorney for the Lopez family, after he submitted his amended lawsuit at the Board of Supervisors public hearing Tuesday the Jan. 7th. The yelling in the background halfway through the interview is coming from the speaker system of people who are making public comment to the supervisors. It gives you an idea of the level of emotion throughout the hours of comment. Sam also has some images of the hearing room that give you an idea of the number of people there to be heard and their level of passion about this subject.


The poem that Magick Altman read as her statement:

Justice for Andy

When a mother births a child
she sends dreams of the future
into the world
And when that child
is killed in cold blood,
all the dreams blow back
in her face with a gale force,

ike a fire
out of the gates of hell.
All Andy’s dreams now weigh
on his mother and father to fulfill
and she is asking us to help her.

We are mothers and grandmothers.
we never want to experience what Sujey
is feeling.
but still when we hear the news of another child
dead at the hands of the state,
we must dip our toes into that fathomless, dark pool of grief, to empathize, to bear witness,
but we cannot drown there,
nor let our sister, Sujey, drown there
It is the worst nightmare of every mother
who ever lived, it is against the order of things

and you hide Gelhaus behind you
you let him continue to be silent
you have shut down your meetings,
called out snipers and riot police
scaring Andy’s young friends, filled with grief and disbelief,
That their friend is dead, that a piece of them died that day, too.

A man, a man with dignity,
would come here and beg
for forgiveness,
own his actions,
look into the eyes of Sujey
and know the pain she is feeling.
You too, need to own your responsibility
in this travesty,
Own that our system is broken
Own that you have served the rich,
while Latinos are called
Illegal, called Alien,
Constantly living with fear and intimidation
until what was unthinkable became inevitable
the shocking finality of a murdered child.

You are afraid too,
afraid because
you know how wrong this is,
know that a wildfire of truth
a brigade of our youth
will not relent
until Andy can truly rest in peace,
Until we together do everything in our power
to protect his friends and their bright and fragile futures

We do not care about your
procedures, they have allowed Gelhaus to return to work
while a family
has a bullet hole through their hearts

grief creates a mighty anger,
grief creates a fierce desire.
grief creates a mighty fire
that tears alone cannot extinguish.

We demand Justice for Andy
Do not sit silent before us
open your hearts and speak!

by Magick Altman, 1-7-14


The Killing of Andy Lopez - A Manifestation of a Corrupt and Soulless System

Statement by Elbert "Big Man" Howard 

     As I write this, because of Andy Lopez' killing, the main focus of many people I know is on youth executions at the hands of law enforcement, and that is as it should be. I also see this in terms of a broader context, i.e. the long-range agendas of the right-wing Republican Party. The week-to-week shooting deaths of our Black, Brown, and other youth by so-called law enforcement, must be studied in the context of the systemic all-over picture. Clearly, there is a pattern and a plan there, if one would just look closely.

     There are a multitude of examples which demonstrate the need for long-overdue and immediate systemic change. Let's start with our educational system, because so many of the recent and continuing trends forecast such a bleak, disastrous future for our youngsters. A society's educational system illustrates what its priorities are and indicates the level at which its children are valued.

     In schools, children are subjected to buying and consuming unhealthy food but in most cases, little has been done to effect substantial improvements in this area. The foods being sold are being done so in the interests of increased profits for the suppliers and administrators, and result in poor health conditions such as childhood obesity. 

     Organized sports, physical activities, and many music and art enrichment programs have been virtually eliminated in public schools. Academic classes have been eliminated, student numbers per class have increased as teachers' positions have decreased, and whole schools have been closed. School nurses and health and urgent care providers are  pretty much extinct now in our public schools. Administrators and our local and national government representatives tell us all these changes are due to the "budget and lack of funds".

     With colleges and universities becoming less accessible academically and financially for our youths, many are giving up before they even reach puberty, and many who aspire to higher education recognize that the doors of institutions are being slammed in their faces. Their choices in life are not only narrowed-down but for many, have become virtually non-existent. The bottom-line truth is that the Republican Party in America advocates doing away with the public education system as we know it. They then can replace it with a corporate-run prison system!

     In this atmosphere of devaluing our children and education, the courts, law enforcement officers, and school officials have been given the power to destroy young lives by labeling them as gang members and by criminalizing them. Racial profiling by law enforcement has always existed and been condoned by this legal system. Racial profiling, coupled with this view of our youngsters as "menaces to society", and the distinct message of no accountability has led to accelerated killings of our children at the hands of law enforcement. These murders, as well as those of the mentally ill, and others, are all, without exception, termed "justifiable homicides".

     Historically, there has always been a concerted effort on the part of American fascists, to destroy the free-thinking youth of not only this country, but others as well. These fascists believe that they can hold back the tide of their own destruction by killing or imprisoning the young and any advocates of change. The federal, state, and local governments are complicit in this American Holocaust. There is blood on all their hands.

     I see the murder of thirteen-year-old Andy Lopez as an example of a bigger plan by the oppressive, right-wing forces which control our government at all levels. and devalue the lives of our children, especially our children of color. These wanton, outright murders are wrapped in veils of lies, secrecy, and confusion and that is how they are presented to our communities. 

     Boot-licking District Attorneys, prosecuting lawyers, and politicians, who are well-paid, give lip-service to community members who are actually the ones paying their salaries and undeserved benefits. Meanwhile, the assassins and trigger-men responsible for the murders of our youth are protected and hidden by these people we have elected to serve us. Could it be that these elected officials, as well as those pledged to protect and serve us, given the truth and nature of their crimes, might be judged and then punished by their public? Perhaps they might not get re-elected?!

     If there ever was an example of the death of our democracy, it is manifested in the killing of thirteen-year-old Andy Lopez.

No "stop and frisk".

No "questions asked".

No "warning".

No "shoot to wound".

Just "shoot to kill" and leave no witnesses.

"Dead men tell no tales", nor do dead children.


So I say, if Erick Gelhaus is not indicted:

Recall the DA,

Recall the Sheriff.

Recall the City Council.

Recall the State Attorney.

      It is time to end the fanatical destruction of American democracy, as our rights are stripped away, one by one. Our youth deserve more than this dictatorship by a privileged few. Our children deserve a democratic society where each person's life, young or old, is of value and where they have the basic human rights which are their birth-rights and which we all are entitled to.



Elbert "Big Man" Howard

Santa Rosa, California

December 29, 2013

why indict Erick Gelhaus statement