by Elbert ‘Big Man’ Howard
Thirteen-year-old Andy Lopez was an aspiring musician when he was shot and killed on Oct. 22, 2013, by Sheriff’s deputy Erick Gelhaus. Andy played the trumpet. Unfortunately, the world will never have the opportunity to see what he could have become or how far his talent might have taken him.
However, rather than just bury his memory, those of the living, including those responsible for his loss of life because they work in some capacity in this injustice system, can make his memory mean something, especially to young people as they struggle towards adulthood.
I am proposing that a fund or funds be set up in his name to help students, especially Latino students and other disenfranchised students of color, who are in need of financial support and are struggling to achieve the goal of higher education. I strongly urge that the district attorney, the sheriff, the City Council and the Board of Supervisors, as well as all law enforcement agencies, contribute to these efforts.
At this point, none of them have publicly expressed any meaningful regret that Andy was shot and killed under their watch, nor have they accepted any responsibility for his senseless killing. The public has a right and also a responsibility to be outraged by all of this.
However, over time, even the deepest outrage tends to subside and many tire of going to rallies and taking part in protest marches. No one wishes for this, but human nature and time being what they are, this just happens.
I say, before this occurs, before coalitions and committees start to disband, I am hoping that they evolve into constructive organizing. People would have to be willing to do the consistent hard work involved in order to organize events, such as concerts, scholarships and other events which would create lasting monuments and programs in the memory of Andy Lopez.
How about focusing on getting serious about the memorial park and playground? These efforts could achieve a lasting legacy and some kind of justice for Andy.
I also propose arranging a jazz festival, which would consist of local high school and college jazz bands, and include student musicians such as those from Healdsburg High, El Molino High, Santa Rosa Junior College and others. Ask venues to donate their facilities; ask local businesses to donate goods and money.
Ask local media to donate ads in papers; ask DJs to make announcements on local radio and television programs. Ask local printers to donate posters and flyers. Promote these events locally and throughout the Bay Area heavily so that this event will be successful and so that no one will ever forget Andy Lopez.
Funds which are raised can then be utilized to help young people in need of help – with educational assistance, legal defense needs, and with basic needs for shelter, clothing, food and medical and dental care. They need help; we could make a difference in their lives.
What has happened to young Andy Lopez has created a tragedy, not only for his family and friends, not only for the community in which he lived, but for so many of us in so many communities. It is time to focus on taking actions which will allow us to start the healing process.
I feel there are many ways to start this process, including the ones I have suggested here. In order to achieve our goals and create positive and lasting change in our struggle for freedom and justice, it would require each of us to take an evolutionary leap into consciousness and recognize the need to commit to each other as human beings. We must set the example. Our children and grandchildren are depending on us.
Elbert “Big Man” Howard is a founding member of the Black Panther Party and is an author, lecturer and community activist in Sonoma County. He can be reached at BigMan0138@aol.com.