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To protect and to serve

Opinions Editor

Published: Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Updated: Tuesday, November 5, 2013 15:11

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STAR // Robbie Geiss

After the death of 13-year-old Andy Lopez, the question as to whether police are overstepping their rights under the Fourth Amendment has been raised. It’s a good question; after all, the public shouldn’t fear those who are supposed to protect them.

From a young age it is ingrained in us that the Police are the good guys. They’re the protectors of cities, small communities and even college campuses.

Sure, people play a lot of Grand Theft Auto these days and like to toss around those familiar negative nicknames, but at the end of the day it’s a comfort to know they’re around when your safety is threatened.

So, when a 13-year-old boy is shot and killed in his own neighborhood by a police officer, of course it’s going to lead to an outcry from the community.

For those who aren’t aware of what took place in Santa Rosa just a few weeks ago, 13-year-old Andy Lopez was spotted walking down the street with what looked to be an AK-47 rifle.

Two Sonoma County deputies got to the scene and reportedly ordered Lopez to put down his “weapon.” Instead of immediately complying, he turned to face the deputies while reportedly raising the barrel of his gun. He had multiple rounds fired at him and was dead at the scene. It was afterward that the deputies discovered his gun was actually a toy pellet gun.

I have to admit that when I first heard the story, I was floored. I was angry because the only thing I really allowed myself to register was that an innocent 13-year-old boy died. I thought about his family.

I thought back to Trayvon Martin and the idea of racial profiling immediately. After doing some more research and becoming familiar enough with what reportedly happened, I decided it wasn’t the case, but could you blame me for that knee-jerk reaction? I’m sure I wasn’t alone.

I have never had any negative inclinations toward police officers, but for some reason after this event I found myself more than willing to put all the blame on them. After all, the media was feeding into it as well with their scrutiny and portrayal of the event. I felt it was completely justified, but then I realized that if I felt so strongly about something than I should at least be educated on the factors that played into it.

The first thing I learned was that the policy for when officers use force is not “shoot to kill.” Police are trained to neutralize a threat. They’re trained to shoot at the center mass to deliver as much trauma as possible to stop the threat, and unfortunately that means that it often does result in death. What I took away most from this was that police do not shoot to kill, they shoot to live.

The deputy that killed Lopez claimed that he did feel threatened. He thought he was about to have a very dangerous weapon pointed right at him and had a split-second to decide that he needed to act in defense, not only for him but also for the community.

A witness had also stated that even though they later found out Lopez was only 13 years old, it wasn’t something one couldn’t initially tell.

Yes, these are all important factors to consider, but that doesn’t negate the fact that an innocent boy is dead. Lopez’s parents obviously feel the same way because they are filing a law suit under the Fourth Amendment, stating that the deputy shot without provocation or cause.

The Fourth Amendment states that all acts of force from the police need to pass a three-part test:
First, the seriousness of the actual offense needs to be analyzed to determine if use of force was justified.

Second, the suspect must be proven to have posed a threat to the officer or others.

Lastly, it must be determined whether or not the suspect was actively resisting or evading arrest.

Because Lopez was guilty only of being a very careless teenage boy in that moment, I truly believe that this isn’t something the officer should be able to just get up and walk away from. That said, I don’t think we should necessarily crucify him either. I can only imagine what it’s like to have what would appear to be an assault rifle aimed at me, and I can honestly say that I don’t know what I would have done in that situation. Maybe I would have jumped the gun out of fear and duty as well.

I will say this: I genuinely believe that the death of Andy Lopez was a tragic mistake. However, mistakes are meant to be learned from. This kid is not the first person to die by a police officer’s misjudgment and realistically he won’t be the last. But it should not be a sad fact of life that people will sometimes accidentally die at the hands of police officers.

There needs to be some sort of change because we should not have this type of resentment against the honorable men and women who do protect our community. We shouldn’t fear them, but there are many people who do.  Tragic events like this one don’t help either.

I’m not saying that I know exactly where the change should start, but I do think that as an institution they need to ask themselves where self-defense ends and the idea of “shoot now, ask questions later” begins.

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