Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Mothers in White Stand with Family of Andy Lopez

A diverse group of mothers, women, and grandmothers dressed in white attended the January 7 Sonoma County Board of Supervisors meeting to stand with Sujay Lopez, the mother of 13-year-old Andy Lopez, who was killed by Sonoma County Sheriff's deputy Erick Gelhaus on October 22. During the open comment period of the meeting, community members seeking Justice for Andy demanded an end to what they perceive as inaction from the board, and many also brought mirrors to hold up so supervisors could, according to an event announcement for the demonstration, take a "hard look" at themselves and answer the question, "why have they done nothing to indict Deputy Gelhaus?"

A Community member reflects the image of Sonoma County Supervisor Susan Gorin back at her.

The Supervisor's Chambers was overflowing as community members waited for the public comment period section of the meeting to begin. In addition to wearing white clothing and holding mirrors of various sizes and shapes, seven people later held picket signs with large photos of nine millimeter bullets on them. These signs represented the seven shots Gelhaus killed Andy with in a time period of less than ten seconds.

Several members of the board walked into the audience in an awkward attempt to show that they also stood with the Lopez family, but apart from receiving support from a few individuals, the audience loudly heckled them. As the open comment period began, one speaker from the public explained, "there are reasons for our cynicism". 

"This isn't about photo-ops. We don't want photo-ops," she later added. 

Community members are outraged that Erick Gelhaus is back at work, and a recent interview with Supervisor Shirlee Zane has fueled more rage.

"This was not our choice to put him back to work, it was the sheriff's choice," Zane said.

"The sheriff does not report to the board of supervisors, the sheriff reports to the people. If the people don't like the job he is doing they can vote him out of office. He is an independent elected," she stated.

One mother who spoke to supervisors was blunt: "A cop in ten seconds murdered a 13-year-old child. He gets two months paid leave and is at a desk job. What does that tell the community? That it is open season on Mexicans, that's what it tell them. It tells the community that police can murder them, and murder their children...and you do nothing, the DA does nothing, to help."

"It only cost the county 225 thousand dollars to cover up a murder," she added, referring to recent reports in the media that the protests held in Santa Rosa after Andy's killing has cost law enforcement $225,000, which covered such costs as riot police.

"The track record for the Sonoma County board of supervisors on the oversight of law enforcement is unacceptable," she concluded.

Nicole Guerra, the mother of Andy's best friend, was dressed in white, and she explained to supervisors how the loss of Andy coincides with another severe tragedy in her life; the person who killed her daughter will be on trial soon. 

"Do something. Be useful," she told them. "You guys have power, you guys have the connections. Do something."

"Don't make this family wait five years, ten years. Justice needs to be served now. Gelhaus needs to be in jail. He doesn't deserve to be working."

Guerra went over her time limit to speak by a minute or two, and Supervisor Rabbitt attempted to move her along.

"You obviously can't relate to anything we say," she said in response, noting the lack of sensitivity.

"Every day for Sujay is another day to try and live. Can't you take off the mask for a minute, drop the false sympathy and feel what these parents are feeling? Imagine that, put yourself in their place."

"Do something for Sujay and Rodrigo [Andy's father] before it happens to you."

During his turn to speak, Ramon Cairo chose to turn his back to the board while addressing the community directly.

"The systematic killing of minorities in Sonoma County is alive, and to be quite honest with you the only reason why I am not really addressing these people behind me is because I feel very strongly that silence is complicity," he said.

Later in the afternoon a large portion of those in attendance at the meeting left to join Lopez family attorney Arnoldo Casillas next door in room 100A of the administration building as he filed legal paperwork amending the family's lawsuit against the county.

Andy's supporters filled up the small office and chanted "no justice, no peace" loudly. 

Elbert "Big Man" Howard, one of the founders of the Black Panthers, speaks

Ramon Cairo

Supervisor Susan Gorin

Supervisor Mike Rabbitt

Supervisor Efren Carrillo

Supervisors Shirlee Zane and Mike McGuire

Lopez Family Attorney Arnoldo Casillas amends the lawsuit against the county

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