In Santa Rosa, a Week of Tear Gas, Rubber Bullets and Over 150 Arrests

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 (Gabe Meline/KQED)

Police fired rubber bullets, shot tear gas and arrested more than 150 people in Santa Rosa over five days and nights of protests starting Saturday, May 30, with demonstrators galvanized around the city’s own history with police shootings.

On Tuesday night, Santa Rosa police arrested 110 individuals, including 90 adults and 20 minors, for reasons including unlawful assembly and violation of curfew.

Hundreds had attended a peaceful vigil earlier in the evening in memory of Andy Lopez, a 13-year-old boy who was killed after being shot seven times by a Sonoma County sheriff’s deputy in 2013.

The vigil, organized by Police Brutality Coalition Sonoma County, was held in the largely Latino neighborhood of Roseland on what would have been Lopez's 20th birthday.

Vigil co-organizer Susan Lamont said the fatal shooting of Lopez and the exoneration of the deputy, Erick Gelhaus, made visible long-existing racial injustices in Santa Rosa.

"It became a major focus of both racial discrimination, and just the incredible overreach and lack of accountability by law enforcement locally, which is then reflected nationally as well," Lamont said.

Demonstrators, mostly young people of color, marched down Sebastopol Road toward Old Courthouse Square. During one standoff, police donned gas masks in preparation for tear gas, used all three nights prior. Later in the evening, the march progressed through the residential area near Santa Rosa Junior College, where marchers sang "Happy Birthday" to Andy Lopez while dozens of residents offered supportive gestures from their porches.

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Similar demonstrations took place in the days and nights previous as hundreds took to the streets. Protesters chanted and marched throughout the city's downtown area, held moments of silence and knelt on one knee in solidarity with George Floyd and others killed by police.

Three people were arrested in Santa Rosa on Saturday, a night in which police shot tear gas twice, and demonstrators took over the freeway twice. Police also shot chalk rounds at the crowd, severely injuring 20-year-old Santa Rosa resident Michaela Staggs, who was taken to the emergency room.

One person was arrested in Santa Rosa on Sunday. That night, after a line of police kept a march from entering the freeway again, some protesters broke store windows at the Santa Rosa Plaza and held a loud sideshow at the intersection of Fourth Street and Mendocino Avenue. After a brawl involving about 20 broke out, demonstrators were able to push away troublemakers, kneel in the intersection and refocus the protest on police brutality. Police then shot tear gas to break up crowds.

Monday's protests led to 27 arrests, including 17 adults and 10 juveniles. All arrestees were from Santa Rosa but one, from Petaluma. The night also led to police officers shooting more tear gas in addition to rubber bullets at demonstrators, including a local tribal leader who sustained serious injuries to his mouth and jaw.

Protests have since dwindled in size. Only eight adults were arrested in Santa Rosa on Wednesday night for curfew violations, and appeared to be arrested voluntarily, after having been given the choice to leave the area.

Another protest is planned for 3 p.m. Friday at Old Courthouse Square.