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With his permission, I am submitting Big Man Howard's most recent article on the murder of 13 year old
Andy Lopez by Sonoma County sheriffs deputy Erick Gelhaus. Gelhaus was recently cleared by the local
district attorney and returned to patrol duty. I hope you will consider publishing this article as an update
and companion piece to your earlier coverage of Andy Lopez.
Government-sanctioned Murder by Cop - in Sonoma
County and Beyond
by Elbert "Big Man" Howard August
It is late at night and I am watching the 24-hour coverage by the major
television news media stations of the murder of Michael Brown and the
goings-on in Ferguson, Missouri. I am very tired but still I watch,
transfixed. Once again, a young, unarmed Black man, an 18-year-old
child really, had been gunned down by a cop in broad daylight, for all to
see. Brown was not shot during the commission of a crime but in a
position of surrender with his hands held up. Yet, still he was shot, at least
six times, including once in the top of his head.
The news media reporters in Ferguson are now being charged by law
enforcement with making actions by "outside agitators" worse and many of
them have been tear-gassed , and some arrested, along with peaceful
protestors, who have not been allowed to stand still and have to keep
moving. Now the people are told to disperse or be arrested, although the
two-day curfew has been lifted. The images of the multitude of combat-
ready, armed-to-the-teeth, totally militarized law enforcement officers,
including the National Guard and the arrests occurring before my eyes,
the tear-gassing and the anger, are all too familiar to me. I am now
seventy-six years old, and still here, despite being one of an "endangered
species" both as an African-American male, and also as one of the original
six founders of the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense, which formed in
October 1966, originally for the purpose of ridding our communities of
police brutality and murderous, racist, bullying cops.
The murder of 13-year-old Andy Lopez on October 22nd, 2013, and the
decision, so many months later, by Sonoma County D.A. Jill Ravitch, to
clear Sheriff's Deputy Erick Gelhaus of the crime, is still fresh in my mind. I
think of the mind-boggling, insulting, reprehensible decision to send
Gelhaus back out this week to patrol and terrorize the Latino community
members and others - no surprise to me, but sickening all the same. It
was a bright and sunny day that October 22nd, recognized as the date for
all to stand up against police brutality, when Gelhaus, a "trained weapons
instructor and firearms expert", spotted Andy, who was carrying a toy gun
and was on his way to a friend's house. Within seconds, Gelhaus fired
eight shots, seven of which struck and killed 13-year-old Andy.
So many other victims come to mind, like Oscar Grant, the young Black
man who was shot down and killed while handcuffed, defenseless and on
the ground, by a Bart policeman in Alameda County. An unarmed young
Trayvon Martin in Florida was returning home when an armed security
guard decided to follow him because he "looked suspicious" and then
killed him. Eric Garner, 43, died on July 17th, after an officer put him in
a chokehold while other officers held him down, during an arrest on Staten Island.
No first aid was administered to him by either the police or the EMTs. In
Santa Monica, on the side of a freeway, this past July, we saw on
video, 51-year-old grandmother Marlene Pinnock being held down on the
ground and beaten by a uniformed cop, without apparent reason.
No cop has ever been arrested for any of these crimes, except for Oscar
Grant's killer, who was incarcerated for a few short months. Why? It could
be said that law enforcement organizations make large contributions to
select political candidates and leaders which keep them in control and in
power. When public protests against police brutality occur, the police roll
out their military dress and hardware, which include automatic guns,
armored personnel carriers and tanks. Most of this hardware is issued to
the state and county by the US Department of Homeland Security.
As we have seen in Ferguson, Missouri, military force is now what meets
those engaged in peaceful protests. All human and civil rights appear to
be null and void, as does the Constitution. Yet we continue to elect
officials who trample on our rights and allow killer cops to shoot down our
children of color, and others, in cold blood. Make no mistake about it -
what we are seeing here is a POLICE STATE.
I am reminded of what James Baldwin said in 1966, "The law is meant to
be my servant, not my master, still less my torturer and my murderer." If
we, as a society, are judged by how humanely our governing bodies and
their hired "enforcers" treat human beings, in this country and abroad, we
have absolutely devolved and failed our children and the generations to
Elbert "Big Man"
Howard Santa Rosa, CA
Elbert "Big Man" Howard is a founding member of the Black Panther Party
and is an author, lecturer, volunteer radio DJ and community activist in