By Will Shonbrun | For The Sun
This is not a story about Andy Lopez, sort of Sonoma’s George Floyd. I say that in so far as it’s a story of a cop killing a non-white male, and that story catching fire. I didn’t know young Andy, 12 at the time of his fatal encounter with death, but it struck me as tragic and unnecessary, leaving myriad questions in its aftermath.
The policeman who shot him seven times, after firing nine shots, Erick Gelhaus, was never brought to trial despite the many questions it raised. In fact, he was promoted. So, all I know about Andy Lopez’s life is that it was cancelled out by a hail of bullets before it ever had a chance to flower.
Why? Because he happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, pretty human, carrying a toy but look-alike rifle to return it to a friend. A sickening twist of fate for a kid’s foolish error.
But the story, as I saw it then, and now, was in the decision not to more seriously investigate and deeply examine the incident itself. To wit: It took place in an open field, no bystanders or passers-by present, and shockingly all happened within the span of three seconds. About the time it takes to take a full breath and exhale it.
Of course there are many other factors at play. Who was in danger? Was it the two policemen who stopped him? Why the rush to shoot a small-statured boy within three seconds of calling him to halt and drop the gun? Why are replica rifles made and sold for children? What warranted promoting Sgt. Gelhaus? We don’t know. And that’s the point.
Interestingly, even the County DA, Jill Ravitch, is now quoted as saying that now, seven years later, if she’d known then what she does now she might have decided the matter of going to trial differently.
That’s what I find myself reflecting on now at the seventh anniversary of Andy’s killing. This left-unexplored incident is but one in a sea of questionable fatal shootings by police in our nation. It has given rise to nationwide demands for police reform and concurrently police accountability. This is not new, it’s been going on for too many years, and only lately finally coming to a head in our times. Perhaps.
That’s the story I think needs focusing. We bestow incredible power in the hands of police. In reality they’re the same as most of us, imperfect and flawed individuals. Yes, they get special training, as that’s essential to the job, but they’re not alone in that. So, too, are nurses and doctors, fire fighters, military personnel, and pilots, but they’re all personally responsible for their actions. Should the police, with the ultimate power of life or death, be less so? I would answer, more so.
Andy was robbed of his life for a childish mistake. Any such thing should give us pause. Our objective should be to reduce the odds of that happening to another child, to another anybody, for what turns out to be no reason at all. There are many reasons for police reform, Andy’s needless death is only one of them.