Paranoid police are a danger to the public

Collin James

A 13-year-old boy named Andy Lopez was killed after being stopped by police in Santa Rosa, Calif.

He was being stopped for carrying what looked like an assault rifle. Erick Gelhaus, a member of the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office, shot Lopez eight times, including after the boy’s body hit the ground. The gun in question was a pellet gun in the shape of an AK-47, an assault rifle banned in California.

It was a needless tragedy that left the community scarred and questioning the role of the police in their community.

A full investigation is underway in addition to a civil lawsuit filed by Lopez’s parents.

This tragedy has raised questions of racial profiling in the community, but the fact of the matter is that something like this would not happen to a white kid. From the police report, Lopez was immediately treated like a criminal and ordered to drop his weapon. The details on what happened between Lopez being stopped to getting shot are unclear.

The mistake isn’t about training. Gelhaus was a veteran of the force weapons expert who also served in Iraq. If anything, he is overqualified for his job and should have been able to distinguish between a real AK-47 and the replica that Lopez was carrying. Also the fact that Lopez was shot eight times, even after he reportedly hit the ground, shows that Gelhaus was shooting to kill from the moment he opened fire.

The issue here is the attitude that police have adopted in the last decade. Police are becoming more militant against a lower rate of crime, and instances of excessive police force are becoming more prevalent.

The most recent case of a teenager dying at the hands of law enforcement brings Trayvon Martin’s death last year. While Martin’s death received heavy coverage from the media, it
was hardly an isolated case. Ever since Martin’s death last year, there
has been a string of police related deaths of teenagers at the hands of
the police. There was Shaqur McNair from North Carolina who was killed at the
age of 16 and fellow 16-year-old Marquez Redden was also killed by police after being mistaken for a burglar last September. Both of these teens were black and Lopez was Latino.

Some may wonder what a Caucasian male such as myself, who has never had to deal with racial profiling or the threat of police brutality would have to say about an issue that will probably never concern me.

But that’s the thing, I’ve never had to deal with that in my entire life. I always know that even if I get in trouble with the law, as long as I don’t fight back, I’d be perfectly fine. Even as I was playing with pellet guns in the shape of Tommy guns, glocks and desert eagles at age 13, the thought of police opening fire on me, even if I ran from them, was never a danger.

No American should grow up feeling frightened of their local police force.

The unfortunate reality is that we live in a world of child soldiers. Here in America, we have children in gangs and Gelhaus, an Iraq war veteran, knew that any man, woman or even child may have been ready to kill him. Bringing this attitude back to America would make sense if America was also a war zone. And that is the problem, crime fighting against minorities these days appears to be more similar to military action in Iraq than crime fighting in white neighborhoods.

Defenders of the officer’s actions may say that Lopez should have used common sense in not bringing what looks like a dangerous weapon on the streets.

But police need to take a case of mistaken identity of a suspect or a firearm as unacceptable when the wrong person is killed. Having police on hair triggers, ready to pull their guns to save their lives on a moment’s notice makes an error of judgement or misunderstanding potentially deadly.

Police need to use discretion, especially against children, but more importantly when they are putting their own lives and the lives of the citizens they are supposed to protect on the line with their actions.

The bottom line is that Lopez would have still been alive if police had not have stepped in.

Besides Lopez, the the other biggest casualty of Gelhaus’ actions is the community’s trust in the police force.