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OPINION: Andy Lopez and Youth Empowerment

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OPINION: Andy Lopez and Youth Empowerment

By Chris Roth

The death of Andy Lopez, on October 22, 2013, brought the attention of the nation to Santa Rosa. Hundreds of people took to the streets protesting the shooting. Local political leaders called for calm and promised action. The Board of Supervisors promised to build a long overdue park in the empty field where Andy Lopez was killed. They dedicated the park to Andy Lopez and created a 21 member Task Force to make recommendations for civilian oversight of the Sheriff’s office. 

These actions did not stop the outpouring of grief and anger. The marches and protests continued and intensified after Sheriff Steve Freitas announced that the shooting did not violate any of his policies or procedures. Protests intensified again in the summer of 2014, after District Attorney Jill Ravitch declared the shooting lawful and did not indict the shooter.

It has now been over two years since that tragic shooting. The community healing that community leaders talked about, and hoped for, has not happened. The passage of time may have helped for some. It hasn’t helped for the young people who knew Andy Lopez.

Andy Lopez Cruz was popular and outgoing kid with a big smile. He had many friends. Those friends came together immediately after he was shot. They organized and led marches and other protest events in Santa Rosa and demanded Justice for Andy Lopez. As the weeks and months passed their protest energy dissipated and they never reached their goal of Justice for Andy. They never found healing, never found resolution. They disbanded.

Then, just recently, neighborhood youth came together again. They came together when Sonoma County Regional Parks began a collaborative effort with community members to design the park that the Board of Supervisors had dedicated to Andy Lopez soon after his death. Community organizer Jess Perez, who last year was given the Sonoma County Peace & Justice Center’s “Unsung Hero” award, asked some of the youth in the neighborhood if they would be interested in helping with the community effort to design the new park. The youth stepped up. They formed a youth steering committee and recommended that the new park have a theme – youth and neighborhood empowerment.

These youth, more than most, realize that Andy Lopez was a disempowered kid living in a disempowered neighborhood. He was shot while walking past an empty field where he and other disempowered kids played with toy guns. Kids disempowered by poverty, by gangs who see them as potential bangers, by police who see them as suspects, and by politicians who ignore them. Twelve years before he was born, a park had been promised where Andy Lopez was killed. The park was deferred and never built. It is easy to ignore the needs of a neighborhood where poverty and joblessness are high while business activity and voter turnout are low. 

Andy’s friends never found healing after his tragic death. Now, two years later, the neighborhood youth are again active and involved. They are calling for a park where they can go to do homework after school, receive tutoring if needed, practice music, and form groups for empowerment and support. They are calling for a park with a theme – empowerment. A theme that may even offer hope of beginning the healing process that still needs to occur. Hopefully, their call for support will be heard. Hopefully, youth and neighborhood empowerment will become what the Andy Lopez Park represents.