About 150 students and other members of the community stood in silence in the heart of Sonoma State University’s campus Wednesday listening to the bell tower at the Jean and Charles Schulz Information Center ring.
The bell rang 13 times representing the years of life that Andy Lopez, a teen who was killed a year ago in his neighborhood in Santa Rosa, lived.
The moment of silence was part of a memorial rally held in honor of Lopez, to commemorate the one-year anniversary of his death and to acknowledge National Day to End Police Brutality.
“Today, we just wanted to honor his memory by not only having a moment of silence and speaking out about how we remember him, but honoring his death in a way which makes an impact,” said Shelby Wade, president of the Sonoma State Sociology Social Justice and Activism Club. “[We want to make] sure the police know that we aren’t going to stand for these kinds of things.”
Lopez was walking through his neighborhood on Oct. 22, 2013, when he was shot seven times by Sonoma County sheriff’s deputy Erick Gelhaus, who believed the teen was carrying an assault weapon.
It was later revealed the weapon was an airsoft rifle that was made to resemble an AK-47, missing an orange tip, a distinctive marking to differentiate from a toy gun and a real firearm.
No charges were filed against Gelhaus by Santa Rosa’s district attorney.
“The community involvement is important. Just because someone isn't going to be prosecuted, doesn't mean that they should ever be back on the street with a weapon,” said Peter Phillips, instructor of sociology. “He made a terrible mistake and when an officer makes a terrible mistake like that and a young child dies, or anyone dies, they should not be allowed to use guns again, period.”
A similar incident in the Bay Area was the 2009 New Year’s shooting of Oscar Grant in Oakland. A Bay Area Rapid Transit police officer discharged his weapon on Grant. The police officer was convicted of involuntary manslaughter, and given two years in prison.
Oct. 22 is not only the day of Lopez’s death, but is also National Day to End Police Brutality. A variety of community members from the Sonoma County and Sonoma State faculty members spoke on issues ranging from Andy’s death, racial profiling, militarization and militarism of police within the nation and police brutality.
“Police brutality is not something we should be allowing,” said Wade. “The community needs to rise up and stand against it, and form a committee which will monitor the police, as if policing the police. I think they have gotten a little out of control.”
Several Sonoma State faculty members spoke during the rally including Phillips, Tim Wandling, Francisco Vasquez, Janet Hess, Amanda Martinez-Morrison, Ron Lopez and Greg Sarris.
“It’s important to hear testimonials of other people to feel their struggle,” said junior and art studio major Sarah Heyward. “There is a huge political and economical imbalance, and structural imbalances between races, and that’s where racism lies. It’s not about hate anymore.”
The memorial rally for Lopez and National Day to End Police Brutality was sponsored and organized by the Sonoma State Sociology Social Justice Club.
“Next semester we are working on an entire social justice week,” said Wade, “so basically we will have four to five events every day for an entire week.”
Phillips is the president of Media Freedom Foundation/Project Censored, a project that exposes and opposes news censorship. Project Censored believes there is a continuing problem with law enforcement related deaths in the United States.
An estimated 1,500 die annually by law enforcement, a statistic they found with their research.
The organization’s research has found law enforcement related deaths in the United States are under reported when figures from the U.S. Department of Justice were compared to the law enforcement related deaths in the nation’s newspapers.