The irony of the killing of 13-year-old Andy Lopez by Sonoma County Sheriff’sDeputy of Erick Gelhaus on October 22, the International Day Against Police Brutality, Repression and the Criminalization of a Generation, was not lost on those who had been active against this national scourge for many years. We continue this work in his name and in the hope of reducing the number of future victims. This October 22 will mark the 10th anniversary of Andy’s killing.
As in past years, a memorial will be held that Sunday afternoon at Andy’s Unity Park at Moorland and West Robles Avenues. Plans have not been finalized nor a time chosen at the time of this writing, but there will most likely be a short religious ceremony because of the faith of Andy’s family. In the past this has been followed by a community gathering around a shared meal. The Peace & Justice Center will be appraised of the final plans and there will also be posts on Facebook.
The organizing for the International Day Against Police Brutality, Repression and the Criminalization of a Generation began in 1996, and the founders selected the October date because students would be back in school and the day would fall before November elections. The organizers’ mission “is to mobilize those directly under the gun of police terror, alongside those who are relatively immune to state violence, to derail the atrocities of police brutality, mass incarceration, and political repression.”
This is exactly what happened after Andy was killed. People of color, especially students, took to the streets many times, while making their grievances heard at the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors and city council meetings. Those of us with greater privilege were there in support, also taking the role of chastising politicians who demanded calm and civility from a community that had long been ignored.
This mass action forced the board to create a task force that would make recommendations. They mandated three months of work. This made clear the supervisors’ distance from the problem and ignorance of its severity. They eventually expanded the work to fifteen months.
Of the twenty-one recommendations, only three were accepted by the board of supervisors. The most significant was the creation of IOLERO – the Independent Office of Law Enforcement Review and Oversight. It began with a minimal budget and no power, as advocated by Supervisors David Rabbitt and Shirlee Zane and the Sheriff. Through the hard work of advocates Measure P made it to the ballot, was passed by two-thirds of the electorate and, as a result, IOLERO has more money, more staff, subpoena power and the right to conduct investigations alongside the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office. Up until now, it could only review the sheriff’s
But IOLERO still has no real power to enforce changes on sheriff’s office policy. Current state law prohibits this. It can only make recommendations. The sheriff’s office doesn’t even have to respond to the recommendations, though sometimes it does, usually by rejecting them.
That leaves us with the power that got us this far – public opinion and activist pressure. So, what do we do?
There are four major levers of public power: IOLERO, particularly through its Community Advisory Council (attend their meetings!), CLEAN – the Committee For Law Enforcement Accountability Now, the same group that wrote Measure P, North Bay Organizing Project’s Police Accountability Task Force (sign up for their newsletter!) and individual activists who attend meetings and draw attention to the problems and solutions (be a noise maker!).
One positive change outside the sheriff’s office has been greater coverage of IOLERO’s work by the Press Democrat. This has come about through pressure and work from several sources, including IOLERO and activists. It is incumbent upon those who read the PD and the above groups to share the information far and wide.
That includes increasing the number of people who know that the sheriff’s office, no matter what pretty words it utters, is refusing major change, though some changes have been made. Then, people must be encouraged to express their displeasure directly to the sheriff’s office. Contact the Sheriff Eddie Engram The sheriff must begin to feel that the status quo actually might lose at the ballot box.
Your vote counts the most at the local level. We’ve made progress, but the biggest hurdles haven’t been scaled. We must stay engaged and informed. We must continue the work.