Andy Lopez Memorial Burned Down, Mother in White to Demonstrate January 7

Andy Lopez Fire Press Democrat

(Santa Rosa, California) In the dark, early hours of January 2, a fire destroyed the Andy Lopez Memorial. By that afternoon over two-dozen people were already rebuilding the Memorial, including neighbors and youth at the one-acre vacant lot where the 13-year-old Lopez was killed October 22 by sheriff’s deputy Erick Gelhaus.

Lopez was walking home at 3 p.m. in the afternoon. Gelhaus drove by in a patrol car and claims that he thought the BB gun Lopez was returning to a friend was a real gun. Gelhaus yelled at Lopez, quickly shot him through the heart with his first shot, then pumped seven more bullets into the dead boy’s body, then handcuffed him. Gelhaus’ partner did not fire a single shot. Since then the Latino community and its allies have had almost daily marches, rallies, prayer vigils, and other actions demanding justice for Lopez.

Though Lopez was killed within seconds, two months later, Gelhaus has not been charged with anything by District Attorney Jill Ravitch. He was given a paid leave and recently returned to desk duty. The Latino community feels insulted and threatened by his being back in uniform. Some feel more afraid of law enforcement than criminals.

Latinos comprise 25% of the 150,000 residents of Santa Rosa and about the same percent of residents of the 500,000 population of Sonoma County. Many are low-paid workers in the lucrative wine industry. Santa Rosa is a city divided by race and class. Latino neighborhoods such as Moorland, where Lopez lived, and Roseland lack basic services, such as parks and libraries. Some describe this as a form of “apartheid” based on race and class.


The fire department quickly put out the fire. They eventually determined that it was started by a candle. This does not mean the fire was accidental. The candles were located 20 feet from the altar and contained in glass. The discussions at the site on the days after the burning were whether or not the burning might have been intentional. At least one person, Reptile 954, had threatened online that the “park will be in ruins in the news.”

“The issue is how did the candle get to make the fire,” observed contractor Josha Stark, who has helped rebuild the altar. “We’ve had windy nights, which this was not, but no fire. Someone could have moved a candle to start the fire.” The mid-night hour of the blaze was also suspicious.

Investigators found no signs of accelerants, such as gasoline. “Arson is not limited to the use of accelerants. Candles have been used to commit arson for as long as candles have existed,” said Victoria Hogan of the Justice Coalition for Andy Lopez. Cherished family photos of Andy were also missing from what many describe as a “sacred site,” as well as rosaries.

“Absence of accelerants is not absence of arson,” said Pat Sheehan. “My brother, a retired battalion chief with California Department of Fire, said they could have used a blow torch or set some kindling on fire.  Where the candles were, there was no scorching or other evidence of fire. It seemed contained to the altar and the back. Why no fire where the candles were?” Many concluded that the fire was suspicious. Its source remains undetermined.

“The candle were there for two months,” noted KPFA-FM radio programmer Miguel Molina. “Candles do not start fires. Humans start them.”

“Whoever did this did us a favor,” said elder Alfredo Sanchez. “This is helping heal our community. The people working to rebuild this memorial do not deny racism.”

“A once beautiful site with a glorious Memorial, including balloons and flowers, was torched and reduced to ashes. The next monument will be bigger, taller, and more permanent,” said Dara McCuiston, a co-founder of Mothers in White.

Andy Lopez Women in White



“Today I woke up to news that Andy’s Memorial had burned to the ground,” said McCuistion. “It’s shocking. Just yesterday, with a group of Andy’s Youth, I attended the 5-year anniversary of Oscar Grant’s death.” Grant was a young African American killed in Oakland by a police officer, who was found guilty, after community pressure.

Mothers in White plan to demonstrate at the governing Sonoma County Supervisors meeting January 7. “Whether in Oakland or Santa Rosa, justice-loving people will not be intimidated or discouraged. We plan to rebuild the Memorial and will not rest till there is Justice for Andy!” added McCuistion.

Mothers in White plan to converge on the regular meeting of the Supervisors for a peaceful, dignified action on Tuesday, at 1 p.m. Among those planning to join them are Andy’s mother Sujey and the family attorney Arnoldo Cassilas.

On Christmas Eve, a committee of the Justice Coalition began planning the January 7 direct action, proposed originally by Elaine Holtz. Among the dozen who met were representatives of the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People), the Women’s Political Caucus, and radio stations KBBF-FM, bi-lingual, and KPFA-FM, a Pacifica station.

A bi-lingual, multi-cultural flyer promoting the event reads, “Every member of the Board of Supervisors is staring into a moral crisis! What kind of ‘policy’ permits the brutal killing of a 13-year-old child who committed NO CRIME?” it asks. It poses the question, “To what length would you go if your innocent child or grandchild was brutally murdered?”

The intention is to “create a dramatic visual impact” of Mothers in White, as well as their allies, including men and the group Women in Black. “Kids on scooters” plan to attend the action.

People are invited to bring mirrors to hold up to the supervisors to examine themselves. Supervisor Mike McGuire apparently said that Andy’s death was a time to reflect in the mirror. This peaceful event intends such a reflection.

The color white was selected because it was Andy’s favorite color. White is not the absence of color, but the mixture of all colors, which is what this mass movement for justice seeks. Outside the meeting seven posters with large images of the 9mm bullets that killed Andy will be displayed.


The active response of Latinos and their allies to Lopez’s killing represents a political coming-of-age of the Latino community–the fasted-growing sector of the Santa Rosa and Sonoma County populations.

“We are witnessing a dramatic shift in population in California and the country, which threatens the existing political and cultural paradigm,” said attorney Jonathan Melrod of the Justice Coalition for Andy Lopez. “There is a ‘Brown Revolution’ occurring in America and the Justice Campaign is a component of that larger civil rights movement. Widespread anger exists over government’s failure to deliver on immigration reform and other electoral promises that dissolved over the past 6 years. This shift in the political paradigm is and will continue to be a dramatic factor in future elections.”

“The murder of Andy Lopez is an example of a bigger plan by the oppressive, right-wing forces which control our government and devalue the lives of our children, especially children of color,” said African American Elbert “Big Man” Howard. “These wanton, outright murders are wrapped in veils of lies, secrecy.”

“In this atmosphere of devaluing our children, the courts, law enforcement officers, and school officials have been given the power to destroy young lives by labeling them gang members and by criminalizing them,” Howard added. “Racial profiling, coupled with this view of our youngsters as ‘menaces to society,’ and the distinct message of no accountabilityhas led to accelerated killings of our children at the hands of law enforcement.”

Youth from the eighth grade, as Lopez was, from high school, and from Santa Rosa Junior College have been leading the charge. They hold signs expressing solidarity with words like “I Am Andy.” These youth are getting an applied political education likely to forever change their lives, as well as awaken the Latino community and Sonoma County.


Lopez family attorney Cassilas filed a civil rights violation lawsuit in federal court November 4. He plans to amend it by January 7. That complaint includes “Three Claims for Relief:”

1. Unreasonable Seizure vs. Erick Gelhaus.

2. Municipal Liability for Unconstitutional Customs and Practices vs. Sonoma County (and unnamed other defendants).

3. Interference with Family Integrity + Substantive Due Process Violation vs. Erick Gelhaus and Sonoma County (and unnamed defendants).

“The amended complaint will shift the narrative to focus more on Gelhaus, his history, his writings, his participation in firearms training at a white supremacist compound,” according to attorney Melrod.

Cassilas opened a December 18 Coalition meeting attended by 50 people. “The lawsuit will have various claims, including direct negligence in training and retaining Gelhaus by the Sheriff’s Office. They knew they had a powder keg, which exploded,” said Cassilas.

“The lot where Andy was killed was where kids played airsoft war games,” Cassilas explained. “Gelhaus, according to a neighbor, had driven by months ago and saw them playing with toy guns.” It is not unusual for boys to play games such as “cops and robbers.”

Cassilas revealed some of his research on Gelhaus. The Iraq combat veteran has been teaching at a gun school in Arizona founded by Jeff Cooper, whom Cassilas described as “a white supremacist.” Gelhaus went from the killing fields of Iraq to work in a neighborhood of other dark-skinned people. Some militarized police transfer their military training and instead of serving and protecting they see neighborhoods with people of color as “the bad guys.”


The Justice Coalition’s demands are summarized in a letter by the bi-racial Zac Britton, published by the daily Press Democrat. He said that he has “experienced prejudice and racism first hand here in Sonoma County.” Headlined “Explaining Justice,” he writes:

“When people ask what justice for Andy Lopez means, tell them it means re-training all officers trained by Deputy Erick Gelhaus.

“It means a memorial park at Moorland and West Robles avenues dedicated to Andy Lopez and all victims of police brutality.

“It means the de-militarization of local law enforcement. It means beefier pre-employment screening standards for law enforcement.

“It means the establishment of a Citizen Review Board. It means lapel cameras on every law enforcement officer. It means the annexation of Andy Lopez’s neighborhood into Santa Rosa.

“It means local elected officials who are actually involved in our community instead of those who couldn’t care less.”

Among the 15 seats appointed by supervisors to a task force to study establishing a Citizen Review Board are human rights activists, student leaders, law enforcement officers, an attorney, an academic, and a former supervisor.

“Its members are for the most part reluctant to stand up to authority,” commented a cautious Coalition activist, Karen Saari.  “One intent in forming the task force is to assuage public outcry and make the general public think something meaningful is being done.  I would be very surprised if the outcome has any real teeth.”


The Mothers in White action has captured the imaginations of people from around the San Francisco Bay Area and beyond, as one can tell from photos from throughout the world on the Facebook page below.

“Dearest Andy’s Dream Defenders,” Evelina Molina of bi-lingual KBBF–FM recently wrote. “If Andy were alive, he would have some amazing dreams for his future. We must insure that other young dreams live and prosper in Peace and Security.” She reports that Fresno Brown Berets and BAMN activists from Oakland plan to come. Others have made contact with groups such as the Pacific Asian American Women Bay Area Coalition and the National Coalition of 100 Black Women. A genuine multi-cultural, multi-generation coalition seems to be emerging.

Pending Coalition events include a strong presence at the January 20 Martin Luther King, Jr. Day Rally, a voter registration drive, and a January 24 fundraiser.

Galvanized by Andy’s killing, the Latino community and its allies have already achieved a number of victories by their ongoing efforts for justice. They show no signs of lessening their efforts.

Latinos and Anglos are being united “as the 99%” by “the ongoing economic crisis,” said Coalition member Dave Ransom. He describes the “shadow of the nearly jobless future cast across all youth.” He concludes, “A unity of the 99 % is growing in Sonoma County.”


More information:

(Shepherd Bliss {{}} teaches college part-time, has operated the Kokopelli Farm for the last 20 years, and has contributed to two dozen books.)


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  • Larry Conley

    They have killed Andy and they are trying to deface his memory. All across this land, people of conscience must rise and say No!

    If men and women, adults, teenagers, and children of goodwill do not come together and take effective action the predators in power will continue their atrocities.

    Arise citizens!

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