by Malaika Kambon
“Today is the day you may need to kill someone in order to go home. If you cannot turn on the ‘mean gene’ for yourself, who will? If you find yourself in an ambush, in the kill zone, you need to turn on that mean gene.” – Sgt. Erick Gelhaus, killer of Andy Lopez, writing in “Ambush Reaction in the Kill Zone,” published by SWAT magazine
Andy Lopez Cruz had a toy.
A cop – who did have a gun – told a child with a toy to “put your gun down,” as though Andy was committing a criminal act. The cop did not say, “Put your toy down.” In fact, the cop doesn’t even remember if he identified himself as a police officer.
According to four eyewitnesses, the cop and his newly minted partner hid inside their car with their guns drawn on a child walking down the sidewalk. The child’s destination was a friend’s house on a bright sunny day. The child had a toy.
But the child, Andy Lopez Cruz, didn’t see his friend that day. Andy will not ever see any of his friends again. For within 10 seconds, the cops had rolled up behind him, reported him as suspicious, called for backup and shot him seven times. He was shot twice in the back before he hit the ground; he got a chance to scream “Stop” once and then he died.
He was criminalized, spoken to as though he had a weapon, then shot and killed.
Why? Ostensibly because a 24-year veteran Santa Rosa “Officer Friendly” weapons instructor and Iraq war veteran claims he couldn’t tell the difference between a plastic toy and a real weapon – from a 20-foot distance. Just like Oakland killer cop Johannes Mehserle couldn’t distinguish between his left and right hand or between his holstered Taser and his un-holstered gun when he killed Oscar Grant.
But this reporter believes that Andy Lopez Cruz was assassinated because he was a young Brown child and – shades of Trayvon Martin – Andy was wearing a blue hoodie. The police made sure that Andy’s hoodie was mentioned at their press conference the following day, in fact.
It is interesting to note here that the Santa Rosa Police Department press conference made mention of Andy Cruz’ hoodie but neglected to mention the SRPD’s policy regarding on-police cameras. Here is yet another unanswered contradiction. What is the SRPD policy? Do their officers wear cameras? If so, was Andy Lopez’ killer wearing one and was it on? If the Santa Rose PD hasn’t issued on-officer cameras, why not? If they have, what is the status of his?
So quite naturally, an order to “put your gun down” or to “drop your gun” would be a confusing statement to a child, especially coming from an unidentified male adult – who was positioned behind him. And quite naturally, Andy would turn around to see whom the so-called adult was addressing – what gun, and where.
This is yet another way that the cop presumed, stereotypically, that a Latino child, who was in reality a popular, respected, trumpet playing eighth grader, had a criminal mindset.
Within 10 seconds, the cops had rolled up behind him, reported him as suspicious, called for backup and shot him seven times. He was shot twice in the back before he hit the ground; he got a chance to scream “Stop” once and then he died.
But Andy Lopez didn’t even get to turn around before he was gunned down from the rear and had multiple shots pumped into him while still on the ground. He was fired on as though he had committed a crime, initiated hostile action between himself and police and was returning fire, gun blazing.
This in fact was what the cop did. Not Andy. For an eye blink, all Andy did was scream. The cop was the one with the smoking gun, standing over Andy’s dying then dead body.
Cops play with their toys every day. This particular cop in fact has written that he considers law enforcement to be a contact sport. So what is this, a new chapter of Dial M for Murder Monopoly style? It takes “mean genes” after all to kill an innocent child. Pay’s good, too.
But this is also one of the earmarks of an entrenched fascist belief that the people of the world exist solely for the state: its ruling class, its power elites, its military – and its militarized police. Protecting and serving their masters and with eyes to the right (wing), these militarized police target and assassinate Black and Brown young men, women and children, such as Oscar Grant, Kenneth Harding Jr., James Rivera Jr. and now Andy Lopez Cruz, to name but a few.
This is the type of mindset and thinking that spawned Sgt. Erick Gelhaus, Andy’s murderer. Gelhaus is a classic example of the post-9/11 merging of the military industrial complex with local police in a dual use function that defies the Posse Comitatus Act. Designed to facilitate what Oakland’s Mayor Jean Quan has called a “comprehensive crime prevention/reduction strategy,” domestic militarized police profile communities as criminals, terrorists and potential threats to national security.
Andy was a Brown child carrying a toy. Because of this he was racially profiled, criminalized for being Brown and assassinated for wanting to play?
So that trigger happy, gun obsessed, Iraq war vet SWAT team member Erick Gelhaus is more than a cretin who hires out as a gun for the privileged. He is a paid assassin, and part of what may be a national police force in the making – the first of its kind in the U.S. If this is so, then communities of color must recognize that Gelhaus and others like him are part of a larger militarized policing entity – and that this entity comes equipped with a license to kill with impunity. As such, how long will it be before said entity is no longer subject to state and local laws?
Malcolm X said you don’t take your case to the criminal; you take your criminal to court. But what court is there – except the people’s court – that is actually going to pursue justice, and not Just Us?
And they do this protected by everything from The Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act of 1968 to the Police Officer’s Bill of Rights to Homeland Security. It should be noted here as well that according to the Cato Institute’s National Police Misconduct Reporting Project, what was then the Peace Officer’s Bill of Rights was originally a piece of legislation intended as “an attempt to amend the Omnibus Crime and Safe Streets Act of 1968.”
For those who do not know, The Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act of 1968 is the tool by which the U.S. government deals with organized dissent by isolating dissenters and entombing them in the bowels of what is now the Prison Industrial Complex.
By organized dissent, this reporter refers historically to the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense, the Black Liberation Army, the Brown Berets, the Young Lords, I Wor Kuen, progressive student organizations, and any organization that disagrees with and actively fights against oppression and for dignity, human rights and the freedom of the oppressed by advocating a total change in the present system of imperial greed.
This includes ordinary street people who can tell when the above named organizations are serious, telling the truth and sophisticated in their opposition and believe in, support and/or join them accordingly.
The killers profile, criminalize and kill for sport as target practice under the guise of preventing criminal and/or terrorist activity. But the reality is that they are targeting Afrikan and Latino communities, specifically youth who are Black and Brown.
The minute anyone believes, they become a target. The minute anyone joins, they risk becoming dead or imprisoned, because in the truly organized criminals’ mindset – led by all U.S. presidents – dissent equals organized crime.
The 1968 Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act is also the tool by which the “dynamic duo” of then Attorney General John Mitchell and Richard Nixon created the now defunct Law Enforcement Assistance Administration, or LEAA. Title I of the act provides for federal assistance to state, county and city police. This assistance was administered by the LEAA, which was abolished in 1982. Its present incarnation is the Office of Justice Programs, established in 1984.
In 1970, 43 years ago, Title I Section 301 of the act was a bit more forthcoming about what it covered. Now, as of April 15, 2013, this section of the act is very obscure.
Marty Payne’s excellent article, “People’s Guide to Legal Lynching,” published on May 11, 1970, in Ju-Ju, a student newspaper from what was then Cal State Hayward, points out that the original act lists the specific purposes for which state, county and city police could apply for federal LEAA grants. Title I Section 301 of the act originally read as follows:
“(a) It is the purpose of this part to encourage States and units of general local government to carry out programs and projects to improve and strengthen law enforcement.
“(b) The Administration is authorized to make grants to States having comprehensive State plans approved by it under this part, for –
“(1) Public protection, including the development, demonstration, evaluation, implementation and purchase of methods, devices, facilities, and equipment designed to improve and strengthen law enforcement and reduce crime in public and private places.
“(2) The recruiting of law enforcement personnel and the training of personnel in law enforcement.
“(3) Public education relating to crime prevention and encouraging respect for law and order.
“(4) Construction of buildings or other physical facilities which would fulfill or implement the purposes of this section.
“(5) The organization, education, and training of special law enforcement units to combat organized crime, including the establishment and development of State organized crime prevention councils, the recruiting and training of special investigative and prosecuting personnel, and the development of systems for collecting, storing, and disseminating information relating to the control of organized crime.
“(6) The organization, education, and training of regular law enforcement officers, special law enforcement units, and law enforcement reserve units for the prevention, detection, and control of riots and other violent civil disorders, including the acquisition of riot control equipment.
“(7) The recruiting, organization, training and education of community service officers to serve with and assist local and State law enforcement agencies in the discharge of their duties through such activities as recruiting; improvement of police-community relations and grievance resolution mechanisms; community patrol activities; encouragement of neighborhood participation in crime prevention and public safety efforts; and other activities designed to improve police capabilities, public safety and the objectives of this section: Provided, That in no case shall a grant be made under this subcategory without the approval of the local government or local law enforcement agency.”
If the 1968 prototype has birthed the more coordinated and militarized police of 2013 – which were first used against the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense in a series of regional agreements which included COINTELPRO working with police, according to community activist and former Oakland City Council member Wilson Riles Jr. – we now have an indication of how, when and where vigilantes, killer cops, SWAT teams, batter-rams, L-RADs, cyber spying, wiretapping and electronic eavesdropping BART cops, Urban Shields and god knows what else were evolved, financed and Made In America. Wiretapping and electronic eavesdropping are actually covered extensively in Title III of the 1968 act.
‘Mean genes’ indeed. Democracy is a joke. Fascism is entrenched and is here to stay.
Local law enforcement has been well endowed since the days of LEAA. According to Riles, $7.2 million is the size of the current grant by Homeland Security to the Alameda County Sheriff’s Department to fund the now annual Urban Shield “war game police training simulation” and weapons expo conducted by more than 100 police and military agencies from across the U.S. And then there’s the $250,000 paid to the Oakland City Council’s current pet police consultant William Bratton.
Which means that strictly speaking, cops are no longer law enforcement. They are well-paid assassins. And they aren’t rogue. They are doing as they are told.
It also means that if Andy Lopez Cruz had been Joe Smith white kid from Fountaingrove, a Santa Rosa neighborhood where a house is currently advertised at $10,750,000, no way would he be dead now. He’d have been praised for wanting to grow up to be like Officer Friendly, a cop-soldier-prison guard-security-mercenary-soldier-of-fortune, patted on the head and, in all probability, shown how to hold and fire his toy-in-the-shape-of-a-gun like a real man.
If Andy Lopez Cruz had been Joe Smith white kid from Fountaingrove, no way would he be dead now.
But Andy Lopez was Latino. Already discounted. Already stereotyped. And, besides, he was wearing a blue hoodie – presumed to be gang colors maybe. So he was shot seven times for being Brown and walking down the street in broad daylight with a toy.
Maybe if he’d been in the park where the Santa Rosa Sheriff’s Department was “making non-traditional connections with the community” by encouraging children to play with REAL automatic weapons, Andy might not have been shot.
Yeah. And maybe donkeys fly, too.
This cop didn’t fear for his life. He just knows what to say to make the right people think he feared for his life. The reality is that Erick Gelhaus doesn’t have a life. He has a reputation for going ballistic, though. He screams and threatens to throw down (i.e. shoot) unarmed drivers during routine traffic stops. This is on record.
Brave man. Mr. Westbrook was attempting to reason with and offer help to someone who believes that “law enforcement is a contact sport.” Though white, he could have been shot for talking.
Andy Lopez Cruz was shot for breathing air.
Sgt. Gelhaus also has a reputation for beating Latino teenagers. Now he has killed a Latino teenager and is allegedly afraid for his life yet again. He seems to like living in fear for his life. Maybe that’s the only thing that can get him off. You know, get those creative game juices flowing. Perhaps he’s somewhere in a bunker hunkered down in survivalist mode with 52 cans of peas and every weapon he can get his hands on waiting for Armageddon if his brother officers cannot protect him.
For obviously the world doesn’t appreciate his psychotic contact sport kill mode assassination of Andy Lopez. In a letter to Santa Rosa District Attorney Jill Ravitch, the California Coalition Against Police Brutality has demanded that Jill Ravitch charge Erick Gelhaus “immediately for the murder of Andy Lopez” and states: “Andy Lopez is dead and we are disgusted at law enforcements tactics of demonizing this boy. He was a boy being a boy, playing with toys, walking in his own neighborhood. Our efforts to protect this child and his family from this slander will not cease. This behavior by the Sonoma County is terrorism.”
So the question is still, who but us is going to free us?
Five thousand people marched in sleepy Santa Rosa on Oct. 29 to prove that this kind of legalized fascism has been recognized for what it is and will no longer be tolerated. Attorney John Burris and Dionne Smith, mother of James Rivera Jr., slain by Stockton PD, were two of the many speakers, most of whom were young men and women who, while surrounded by heavily armed police, were angry, in pain and grief stricken – yet undaunted. They refused to be intimidated from speaking out. They refused to be intimidated by cops who laughed at their emotions and photographed their grief.
Soldier of fortune-minded Sgt. Erick Gelhaus assassinated Andy Lopez Cruz, eighth grade trumpet player, on Oct. 22, the same day that several miles away in Sacramento, thousands marched against police brutality.
Gelhaus is on paid administrative leave in order to run for his life. His brother officers have sworn to protect him with theirs. Well, Gelhaus swore to protect Andy’s life with his. But he flipped the script and reverted to type.
He did this under the guise of democracy and with a side of fascism: He took Andy’s life just because he wanted to play with his big gun. Maybe the Iraq War veteran thought he was in a twilight induced kill zone or somewhere in Fallujah murdering more people of color.
Andy’s parents have now laid Andy Lopez Cruz physically to rest. But Andy isn’t going to rest in peace.
And neither should we, as long as sick shit like this keeps happening.
- Flashpoints special coverage of Oct. 29 march for Andy Lopez in Santa Rosa
- Civil Rights Actions “Wiretapping and Electronic Eavesdropping (Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act of 1968, Title III, 18 U.S.C. P2520)” by Joseph G. Cook and John L Sobieski, Jr.
- SWAT magazine articles by Erick Gelhaus
Malaika H Kambon is a freelance photojournalist and the 2011 winner of the Bay Area Black Journalists Association Luci S. Williams Houston Scholarship in Photojournalism. She also won the AAU state and national championship in Tae Kwon Do from 2007-2010. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.