Cops arrest anti-police brutality protesters in Santa Rosa

Ramon Cairo (with bullhorn) leading the way, Dec. 10, Santa Rosa Photo: Forrest Schmidt
Ramon Cairo (with bullhorn) leading the way, Dec. 10, Santa Rosa
Photo: Justice Coalition for Andy Lopez
Protesters with crosses waiting to get into City Hall, Santa Rosa, Dec. 10
Photo: Justice Coalition for Andy Lopez
Inside the City Council meeting, after half the council members had fled, Santa Rosa, Dec. 10
Photo: Justice Coalition for Andy Lopez

On Oct. 22, in Santa Rosa, Calif., Sonoma County Deputy Sheriff Erich Gelhaus screamed at 13-year-old Andy Lopez, telling him to drop his “weapon,” a toy gun. Within five seconds Gelhaus shot seven bullets into Lopez, killing him. Then, Gelhaus handcuffed the boy's body and evacuated the scene rather than get medical attention for Lopez. All of this is acknowledged by both the Sonoma County Sheriff's Department and the Santa Rosa Police Department.

“Right now, there's nothing screaming at us that [Gelhaus] violated any policy,” was the candid admission of Assistant Sheriff Lorenzo Dueñas, as he announced, on Dec. 6, that Gelhaus would return to work. Duenas's assessment was based on a report on a supposedly ongoing investigation by the SRPD. Included in the report was a comparison of Lopez's toy gun with a real AK-47 to “prove” to the public how much they look alike. Gelhaus did what law enforcement in this country is supposed to do: he terrorized a working class community of color.

In response to Duenas's announcement, a new demonstration was called for Dec. 10 by the Justice Coalition for Andy Lopez. This coalition has been leading the youth of Santa Rosa in weekly demonstrations that have forced the SRPD to release Gelhaus's name and have pressured the City Counsel to embrace a plan to turn the vacant lot in which Lopez died into a city park named after him. On Dec. 10, people gathered outside the Santa Rosa City Council building to demand they be heard. The City Council has been under a de facto gag order by the City Manager and City Attorney not to discuss Lopez's killing since it occurred.

Justice Coalition member Ramon Cairo had suggested that the protesters carry 57 crosses, representing each victim of Sonoma County law enforcement since 2000. Each cross had a note on it listing the name of the victim it represented and a short description of the circumstances of that person's death. As the protesters approached the City Council building with the crosses, SRPD surrounded the building and started pushing and menacing the marchers, but protesters from the Justice Coalition for Andy Lopez and the ANSWER Coalition (Act Now to Stop War and End Racism) were able to enter the buliding.

Police arrest protest organizer

As the protesters reached the City Council, about half of the city's elected representatives fled. The other half stayed and expressed their condolences for Lopez's death and their understanding of the protesters' concerns. As the crowd peacefully marched out of the building, the Santa Rosa cops again blocked the doors and then tackled Cairo. Outraged, the crowd again forced their way past the cops, into the building, chanting, “Let him go!” as the cops roughed up Cairo, who was later taken away.

The entire crowd then marched over a mile-and-a-half to the Santa Rosa police station to support Cairo. The people were greeted by two units of riot cops sporting grenade launchers and growling dogs. The cops declared the protest an “unlawful assembly,” a veiled threat of brutality against the public. Much of the crowd, understanding the danger posed by the cops, dispersed. But some protesters marched to the Sheriff's department, followed by cops. The bullying tactics of the SRPD became ever more violent. The final group of protesters decided on a tactical retreat, but this did not stop the police from randomly arresting Jose Godoy as he was  driving away from the protest.

The struggle for justice for Andy Lopez will continue. Jailhouse for Gelhaus!


As this article was being prepared for posting on Dec. 16, Ramon Cairo’s bail was increased to $45,000, and an additional charge was added.

Reprinted from Liberation News

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