A "Fearful" Police Mindset Leads to a Dead Child (William Norman Grigg)
Thursday October 24th, 2013
“The deputy’s mindset was that he was fearful that he was going to be shot,” said Lt. Paul Henry of the Santa Rosa Police Department by way of explaining how 13-year-old Andy Lopez, who was “armed” with a BB gun, was gunned on October 22.
Lopez was on his way to visit a classmate named Luis Diaz when he was spotted by Sonoma County Sheriff’s Deputies on routine patrol. He was carrying an airsoft “rifle” — a plastic toy that fires plastic BBs — that superficially resembles an AK-47 rifle, but can easily be identified as a toy by casual observers. Diaz told the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat that the last time he saw Lopez use the gun “it fell and the whole front of it broke in half so you could see the wires coming out…. You could tell it’s fake, easily.”
During a press conference held in the wake of the fatal shooting, police displayed the airsoft toy next to an actual AK-47, apparently for the purpose of demonstrating how similar the replica is to the real article. However, “in the light of the Finley Center the model Lopez carried was clearly plastic with a transparent center section. The BB gun also had a shorter barrel.” The fatal encounter between Lopez and the deputies took place at 3:15 in the afternoon, which means that such critical details were not obscured by twilight, and should have been recognized by people who are supposedly trained observers.
After spotting Lopez walking on the sidewalk, the deputies called for backup and pulled up behind him. They drew their guns, took cover behind the vehicle’s open doors, and ordered Lopez to “drop the gun.” The youngster, who was about 20 to 30 feet away from the officers, turned around to face the deputies — and was immediately shot. The entire encounter — from the time the deputies called for backup, to the fatal shooting — was just a few seconds.
According to Lt. Henry, the deputy who opened fire was a “law enforcement veteran” who “has quite a bit of experience with this kind of weapon,” meaning, presumably, an actual AK-47, rather than an obvious toy replica. “He’s aware of the damage these kinds of weapons can do” and that they can fire rounds able to “penetrate body armor, can penetrate the metal of his vehicle, and also the sides of houses and buildings in the area.”
Although that statement was offered by way of extenuation, it underscores the preoccupation with “officer safety” that leads to unnecessary police shootings. A peace officer is paid to assume certain risks, including those necessary to de-escalate a confrontation with someone believed to be a heavily armed suspect in a residential neighborhood. A “veteran” deputy with the mindset of a peace officer would have taken more than a shaved fraction of a split-second to open fire on a small male individual readily identifiable as a junior high school student, who was carrying an object that is easily recognizable as a toy — at least to people who don’t see themselves as an army of occupation, and view the public as an undifferentiated mass of menace.