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Thoudands of Santa Rosa Youth Protest to End Systemic Racism and Police Brutality

Ceylan Karasapan-Crow

Story compiled from KSR0 and KRCB broadcasts, NPR coverage, and KQED live onstreet reporting by Gabe Meline.

(As I am over 60 and in the covid vulnerable group I did not venture out, although I would've — just as I have for the Women's Marches, Climate Change rallies, and Impeach Trump rallies — if it were not for health concerns at my age.)

Over two weeks now, protesters demonstrated in downtown Santa Rosa demanding justice for George Floyd and other victims of police violence including Andy Lopez a local youth whose shooting was not indicted, although the county did settle a law suit with Lopez's family for $3 million ( The settlement did not include an admission of liability by the county).

"In 2013, Lopez was walking with an airsoft gun made to look like an AK-47, with the orange tip indicating it as a replica removed. Two sheriff's deputies spotted him and stopped their car, and one, Erick Gelhaus, got out and told Andy to put down his gun. As Andy moved to turn around and face the deputy, Gelhaus fired at him and struck him seven times, killing him on the spot.

By the SRPD’s admission, Andy hadn’t fully turned around to see who might be calling to him before he was filled with bullets. According to the autopsy, he was struck, among other places, in the right hip and right buttock—from behind.

"The protesters I’ve walked with in Santa Rosa this past week are largely between the ages of 18 and 25. These are the kids who went to school with Andy. They haven’t forgotten." Reports Gabe Melin of KQED

The protests started on May 3O, and are continuing as of June 11. We have learned from these young protesters that endless meetings to plan a protest are not necessary, a simple post on Instagram stories will prompt people to come.

Results and Response to Protests

On June 9, The Santa Rosa Police Department announced they will immediately end the use of the carotid restraint, joining other law enforcement agencies to amend use-of-force policies under protesters demands against police brutality.

According to a Tuesday June 9 news release from Santa Rosa police, Police Chief Rainer Navarro made the decision to ban the the The carotid restraint or “sleeper hold,” after discussion with community members and city officials.

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The carotid restraint involves applying pressure to a person’s neck with the intent to render them unconscious by cutting off blood flow in the carotid artery. The move resembles a choke hold — which was previously banned in California — and can be fatal.

Late last year, a Petaluma man died after a Sonoma County sheriff’s deputy administered the carotid restraint hold on David Ward through an open car window. the death is still being investigated by Santa Rosa police.

Gov. Gavin Newsom this past Friday said he would support legislation to ban the carotid hold in California by law enforcement officials.

Several hundred people protesting the death of George Floyd marched through the city to the Sonoma County Sheriff’s office for several hours on Saturday May 31, prompting Highway 101 to be shut-down twice. The protests grew to thousands as the days advanced.

There is at least one reported incident of police using teargas and rubber bullets to disperse a crowd of protesters in Santa Rosa. The march separated into several groups by nightfall, when some got rowdy and violent. One group made their way downtown before being hit with teargas and rubber bullets by officers and deputies.

Three people were arrested Saturday night, June 30. Several buildings were tagged with anti-police messages and some had their windows broken.

SRPD began to disperse crowds after violence and vandalism broke out. The vast majority of the night’s protesters left the area after 2am.

Gabe Meline of KQED Reported on Location June 9:

"But like most cities across America, Santa Rosa has looked and sounded a little different these past 10 days. I’ve been out in the streets until after midnight on almost all of those nights, walking and talking with an incredible uprising of people, mostly young, demanding an end to systemic racism and police brutality in the aftermath of the police killings ofGeorge Floyd andBreonna Taylor. I’ve lived in Santa Rosa my entire life and I have never seen anything like it." Gabe Meline

Another planned protest in Santa Rosa on Sunday turned into an all-night affair for the police department. Protesters gathered at Courthouse Square before 9pm and the public was advised to avoid the area. Just after 11pm, SRPD said violence began to break out and were ordered to leave. The protesters moved to College and Mendocino around 1am and the majority were dispersed by 2:15 in the morning. No word on arrests the night’s event.

Gabe adds:

"Here are a few things I’ve seen and heard while reporting and live-tweeting from the front lines of the protests in Santa Rosa.

I’ve been tear gassed twice. I’ve had rubber bullets fired in my direction. I’ve watched a young woman of color wrestled to the ground by four officers and pinned to the asphalt, screaming, with a knee in her back. I’ve seen an 11-year old girl in zip ties, being led away by an officer.

I’ve seen people tumble down a hill, their scrapes bleeding, when the police chased them away for blocking the freeway. I’ve heard from a small business owner whose window was broken from a rubber bullet fired by police, which the police denied doing until shown video evidence. I’ve talked to a building manager whose roof was commandeered without his permission by police, who cut open the fence around the roof, and who left it that way without telling him, leaving it exposed to trespassers.

I’ve seen the police chief take a knee with young demonstrators and, later that same night, seen his officers shooting tear gas into a crowd, in addition to rubber bullets that hit a local tribal leader in the mouth and smashed his teeth out.

I’ve talked with a reporter wearing clearly visible credentials, just after he was detained, during which police ordered him to put his arms up, zip-tied his wrists, asked for his Facebook page and if he’d been engaged in the perfectly legal practice of livestreaming the protests.

I’ve also seen people hurl bottles toward police, both plastic and glass. I’ve seen people warn police “You saw Minneapolis burn up, you may be next.”

I’ve seen people shout all sorts of threats, insults and provably false accusations at police. I’ve heard of people shooting fireworks toward police. I've seen department store windows smashed, and large brawls, and graffiti galore.

After eight nights in the streets I can say it with authority that the ones doing these things constitute a very small number, relative to a larger, focused group that cares passionately about dismantling systemic racism, and which by and large polices itself.

Each time I’ve seen something thrown at police, the majority of the crowd castigates them. When a sideshow turned rowdy with fighting on the periphery, protesters pushed the few troublemakers away while others took over the intersection and knelt, reclaiming their space and refocusing the protest on the issues at hand.

And as for the single case I witnessed of someone stealing store merchandise, through the broken windows of an athletic store in the mall? The man who ran past me with an handful of clothes was swiftly intercepted by a group of young women, who took the clothes away from him and actually walked back to the store to return them."

Andy Lopez’s killing, and its aftermath, is an object lesson in things that are fundamentally wrong within law enforcement. A deputy knows he only has to say he feared for his life to get away with a fatal shooting. The department will put him on paid leave while an investigation gets underway—not by an independent oversight committee, but by the local police. The district attorney will report that the boy had smoked marijuana and that the deputy acted within the law. The grand jury, made up primarily of older white people, will decline to review the report. Somewhere in all the aftermath, the deputy will return to work, and be given an award, and a promotion.

This is the way the system works. The kids in Santa Rosa know this. The cops are now arresting them."

KRCB’s Adia White Talked with Protesters in Downtown Santa Rosa Earlier this Week.


I'll let Gabe end with some very significant stats and some shameful blemishes in the history of Santa Rosa

"We have a policing problem in this country. That’s not a radical idea anymore, and neither is the notion of reducing police budgets and redistributing funds to other departments. In Santa Rosa, where our mayor is the former police chief who routinely votes in favor of police funding, the police budget currently accounts for 32% of the city’s general fund expenditures. Fire receives 24%; transportation and public works 15%; community engagement and recreation 6%.

Housing, in dire shortage here since the 2017 wildfires, receives 1%, while the police budget currently accounts for 32% of the city’s general fund expenditures.

But the current protests in Santa Rosa and across the county aren’t just about law enforcement and inequity. They’re about hundreds of years of sick, systemic racism. In Santa Rosa, that stain goes back over 100 years, to an influx of early settlers from Missouri, and to the town's support of the Confederacy during the Civil War, and to the second-to-last known lynching in the West. It goes back to a Nazi rally in 1978. It goes back to the 1920s, when a giant sign spanned the corner of Fourth and Mendocino, above the intersection in the heart of Santa Rosa, that read “The Chinese Must Go.”

I think of the kids protesting in the middle of that very same intersection now—kneeling, dancing, hanging off car doors, blaring music, chanting, fighting for a better future—and I hope to God they never stop."

Full report by Gabe Meline: worth the full read:

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