(Photo from the Justice for Andy López Facebook page)
As a school board member, I want to send my condolences to the family and friends of Andy Lopez, including his Cook Middle School family. We are faced with a senseless tragedy and a life taken much too soon. Andy was, by all accounts, a well-liked kid, a capable student, and a good trumpet player. His death, and the manner of his death, diminishes us all and leaves a wound on the community.
As a parent, I cannot even begin to imagine the pain and anguish his parents and siblings must be going through. One does not expect to be called at work to be told your child was just killed. My prayers to Rodrigo and Sujey López as they navigate the darkness of grief, their own and that of their other children. I pray they find some comfort and solace in the community that has rallied around them.
As a community member, I have mixed feelings, ranging from disbelief, to sadness, to anger. I have many questions, some of which will likely never be answered.
Why was Andy carrying around a modified (no orange part) toy AK-47? As a parent of girls who were never into toy guns, or as a woman who does not understand the lure of guns or our United State gun culture, it’s hard to relate to having this particular toy.
I do not blame Andy for his death because he had the toy, nor do I judge his parents, as I don’t know if the family had talked about this, nor do I know if Andy was complying with any parental rules and regulations. Certainly Andy López would not be the first teen to not do so, nor will he be the last, but most teens don’t die from not following rules.
How many kids around our country have these toy AK-47s? How many of them play in the streets with them, with no harm or foul? If these toys were sold in lime green or other fake colors, how many kids with their parents’ blessings, would simply spray paint them to look more real?
Did the deputies follow correct protocol and use-of-force continuum? How much time elapsed from their shouting to put down the gun, to shots being fired? Was Andy even aware of who was yelling at him? Was he merely turning to see what was going on when the deputies took that as a sign of aggression and acted accordingly? Who would comply with a shouted command, without turning to see who’s giving it? Was the barrel leveled at the deputies as has been claimed? Certainly, I have a hard time believing that if Andy López knew who was shouting at him and why, he wouldn’t have done such a thing.
Many comments in the newspaper focus on blaming the deputies, and/or pointing out that Andy López was Latino in a predominately working class Latino neighborhood. Some point out that merely a week ago, there was a stand off in Fountaingrove where a man shot at his wife and a locksmith. The SWAT team and the Santa Rosa Police Department managed to bring that situation under control without anyone getting hurt. Perhaps it is comparing apples and oranges, but many people can’t help wonder if the zip code and predominately white nature of the neighborhood had anything to do with it.
Others point out, perhaps rightly, that the deputies didn’t know Andy López’s ethnicity, and that it had nothing to do with their actions.
However, to deny that the relationship between law enforcement and communities of color has been anything but positive and pain-free, would to be to deny the daily reality of millions of Americans. Stories of racial-profiling abound, as do stories of people dying at the hands of cops, either through gun fire or being beaten to death; these victims have disproportionally been people of color. Not all law enforcement seem adept at diffusing tense situations, and I have personally seen law enforcement use excessive force in handling situations that were not dangerous. In fact, law enforcements’ actions upped the danger and the tempers of the people involved.
That the community is angry at the death of a 13 year old Latino youth at the hands of deputies is not surprising, and should be treated with the care and transparency that is warranted.
I am also quite appalled at the level of acrimony and ugliness that has been directed at both Andy López and his parents. Many commenters have directly blamed one, the other, or both as solely responsible for what happened. Yet other stories of people who have died tragically, were not met with such vitriol. Recently, two small children died after the ATV they were driving rolled over and killed them. The parent was not present, but there was little blaming of the mother, just compassion. Another example is the man who was, by all accounts, driving like a maniac on Stony Point Road and ended up crashing and killing himself. The few comments blaming him for his own death were met with swift anger, pointing out that his two young children were now without a father and how could anyone be so cruel. I’m curious why some people are held to blame for their own tragedies, but not others. Again, it is difficult for people of color to not look at the ethnicity or race of those who are blamed.
In the end, we are left with a wound that will never quite heal, questions that may never be answered, and people who will carry this pain throughout their lives, including the deputy who shot and killed Andy López. May they all find healing, comfort and peace.
May angels lead you into paradise; upon your arrival, may the martyrs receive you and lead you to the holy city of Jerusalem. May the ranks of angels receive you, and with Lazarus, once a poor man, may you have eternal rest. Amen.
(Photo from the Justice for Andy López Facebook page)