When Andy Lopez left his home on a warm, October afternoon, he might have been thinking about what he was going to eat for dinner, or the music he was listening to, or the test he had to take in school later that week. He might have been thinking about a girl. He might have been thinking about how it was time to return a toy gun, one that was half-broken by some accounts, to his friend who lived nearby. He set off; walking by an open field covered in dried yellow weeds, along the bumpy sidewalks and unmaintained streets of an unincorporated area of Santa Rosa.
Little did he know that two Sheriff’s deputies on a routine patrol would spot him holding the pellet gun in his left hand and see it as a real AK-47. Little did he know that those deputies would call dispatch to report him as a suspicious person. Little did he know that those deputies would park their car at the intersection of Moorland Avenue and West Robles and take cover behind the doors. Little did he know that they would order him to drop the gun with their own weapons drawn, aimed to kill. Little did he know that as he turned to his right, one of the deputies would fire on him within seconds, later saying that he feared for his life. Little did Andy know that he would die on that sidewalk; the fatal shots entered through the right side of his chest and the other to his right hip, though in the end, he was shot at least seven times, once in the right buttock.
Andy Lopez was 13 years old. He played in the school band. He was popular and well loved at his school, evident in the hundreds of students and teachers that have turned out for daily protests and vigils since the killing happened on Tuesday afternoon at 3:15pm. His death has gained international attention, stirring up not only intense outrage, but a renewed call for a civilian review board, or a statewide watchdog, or some sort of independent contractor to oversee the investigation. As it stands, the Santa Rosa Police Department will conduct the investigation of the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Department. Since 2000 in Sonoma County, not once has an officer of the law been charged with wrongdoing when a suspect has ended up dead on the ground. Will this case be any different?
A vigil on Thursday night, at the spot where Andy came to a violent end, drew hundreds. I attended with my nearly nine-month-old daughter wrapped close to me in her baby carrier. I kissed her head often and gave thanks for her warmth against me. We set zinnias and roses cut from our garden on the memorial and looked at photos of the handsome, smiling boy from Cook Middle School. People lit candles and prayed, others simply stared at the altar for hours, trying to make sense of the senseless. Aztec dancers performed on the site and conducted a prayer ritual in Spanish for the safe flight of Andy’s soul.
A contingent of middle-school kids—friends and peers of Andy—marched for at least a mile, from Roseland to Moorland, chanting “Justice for Andy” and “Fuck the Police.” They arrived at the field, at the memorial, during the prayer, led by a man who said, “Somos todos Andy Lopez” as the smell of ritual incense burned in the air and a guitar strummed softly in the background. I stood amongst them, thinking about how incredibly young they all looked, still children, just like Andy. They held signs and flowers and balloons and stayed long into the cold night, in that field, wondering how this happened, and wondering when it would happen again.