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Gunning Down a Boy with a Toy Gun

By       Message Dennis Bernstein     Permalink
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"Certainly, from my perspective, this was an unlawful shooting. This young man was walking. There were no reports of a man with a gun. There were no reports of any illegal activity. The officers pull up behind him, not on the side or in front. They immediately jump out and tell him to drop the gun.

"The problem with that, of course, is the young man didn't have a gun, so he wouldn't have known if the police were talking to him or not. When he finally turns around, he was immediately shot, with no opportunity to make any statements, to tell them it wasn't a gun. He was immediately fired upon, which was an overreaction on the part of the police.

"The worst part is the police officers, both of them, were in a position of safety. They jumped out of their car, stayed behind the doors, in a position with a hard object, and could have had some communication with this kid as he was turning around, such as what was he doing, why was he there, what did he have in his hands. But they did not. So within 10 seconds of stopping him, this young man was shot to death...

"It was excessive from my point of view, just thinking about [Gelhaus] firing his gun in rapid succession, particularly because it was without knowing, a supposition, basically an overreaction, making an assumption based on facts that he did not have.

"A military person, trained marksmen, knows how to shoot his weapon, but he also knows about cover, and this is the part that is most disturbing to me. He was in a position of cover, which would have given him ample opportunity to react and talk to this young man before he fired his gun. He said that the gun looked like an AK-47, but there was some different color on it.

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"The officer never, ever had an opportunity to view this particular weapon because he approached the person from behind. He saw what might have been a weapon, but he did not see it, and more importantly, the kid did not react to him as if he had a weapon. So there are many conditions that would suggest this officer overreacted.

"The question is whether an objective reasonable police officer would have reacted the same way, or would he have used other tactics, which clearly were available."

Burris suggested that the shooter could be prosecuted at "two levels that make sense to me. Second degree murder, which is a reckless disregard for human life ... or involuntary manslaughter, which is a negligent act on his part, either from the manner in which he was stopped or the manner in which he reacted to the events."

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Community Protests

At a mass march and rally in front of the Sonoma Country's Sheriffs Department on Oct. 29, community members, teachers, students, activists spoke out against the shooting, and one after another called for justice for Andy Lopez. There were tears, laments, and cries for justice

"Why did they kill our friend, he was so beautiful and funny and now he has been taken away from us," said one 13-year-old Latino girl at a memorial service. Another young girl standing right next to her with tears in her eyes said, "He was the sweetest kid you will ever see. We really miss him... and they don't even apologize, they just sent more sheriffs and more police and more guns to scare us kids."

Nell, a classmate of Lopez, said, "Andy was our friend. The family is very devastated. I want to tell the cop who killed Andy that it wasn't fair. He was just a kid."

Another young schoolmate said, "I have smaller siblings so I wouldn't want that to happen to them. I miss him so much. It's not right for a cop to do that seven times to a 13-year-old. We don't want that to keep on happening. I'm 14. Yeah I knew him a lot. He was a great kid, He played instruments, and he did sports."

Also at the protest, many parents protested alongside their kids. One parent, Christina, would only give her first name, held her daughter close, as she said, on the verge of tears, "I'm a parent and I'm upset by the 13-year-old boy got shot. With 7 shots. I have a daughter who's 13 and it is just unfair and I want to know why."

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Miguel Gavilan Molina, a former farmworker from Santa Rosa who worked with Cesar Chavez, spoke to the students, declaring: "we know that peace and unity will triumph over violence and hatred. ... But it is time for the militarized, heavily armed police and sheriffs to stop coming into our neighborhood and killing our children."

Molina told me later that this is a "new day" in a California where brown folks are "rising up for their rights with a new militancy as the new majority. ... We are the new majority, and we are feeling our power, especially with the passage of recent legislation such as the Trust Act, and the Domestic Workers Bill of Rights. "

"All these brown kids you see in the street today, were in baby carriages ten years ago, as their parents began this struggle. And as you can see today, these kids are no longer willing to just stand by and let one of their own be cut down."

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Dennis J Bernstein is the host and executive producer of Flashpoints, a daily news magazine broadcast on Pacifica Radio. He is an award-winning investigative reporter, essayist and poet. His articles and essays have appeared in The New York Times, The Boston Globe, The Nation, and (more...)

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