Dismay, anger, sorrow, frustration and fear were among emotions expressed Thursday night during a public forum organized by county officials in the wake of Sonoma County District Attorney Jill Ravitch's recent move clearing the sheriff's deputy who shot and killed 13-year-old Andy Lopez of any criminal wrongdoing.
The forum, billed as a “listening session,” drew about 100 people and was organized by Supervisor Shirlee Zane and a subcommittee of the county's Community and Local Law Enforcement Task Force, which was formed last year in response to the fatal shooting.
“As a parent, I am concerned,” said Mario Castillo of Sonoma, a father of a 14-year-old boy and a 10-year-old girl.
Castillo said he fears whether his “kids are going to be safe out in the streets.”
Laura Gonzalez, a Santa Rosa School Board trustee, said she objected to Ravitch's conclusion that Gelhaus “honestly and reasonably” feared for his life when he fired at Lopez.
“I don't think its reasonable that 13-year-olds are killed by cops,” Gonzalez said, adding that strong steps need to be taken to ensure police are familiar with the people in neighborhoods they patrol.
“I want police who patrol those areas to know what are the de facto playgrounds,” she said.
Several speakers called for a number of measures, including independent citizen review of law enforcement, “real” community policing and changing law enforcement culture they say views many Latino kids as gang members in war zones. Others called for steps that would increase Latino representation, including adopting district elections in Santa Rosa.
The 21-member Community and Local Law Enforcement Task Force is reviewing options for a an independent citizen review body; considering options for community policing; and reviewing and recommending whether the coroner's office should be a separate elected office from that of the sheriff.