Sonoma County deputy's promotion protested in Santa Rosa

In the North Bay, a weekly farmers' market offered some food for thought. Silent protesters wove their way through the Wednesday evening event in downtown Santa Rosa.

They were protesting the promotion of Sonoma County Sheriff's deputy Erick Gelhaus to the position of Sergeant.

In 2013, Gelhaus shot and killed thirteen year old Andy Lopez as Lopez walked in his neighborhood carrying a replica firearm that Gelhaus thought was real.    

"We're just walking through silently, very peaceful with our signs," protest organizer Enrique Yarce told KTVU, "because nothing has changed. It's been three years now and he's getting promoted? Nothing has changed."

The Wednesday night market was a captive audience. It draws thousands of people, with a mix of live music, crafts, food vendors and produce stands.

But the lighthearted mood was jarred as the few dozen protestors made several loops on Fourth Street. People watched somberly, reading the protest signs, and many offered opinions on the Gelhaus promotion. 

"It's a public relations nightmare for the Sheriff's Department," resident Jesus Rivas told KTVU, "and it's too soon, there's still too much hard feelings."

On Facebook, Sonoma County Sheriff has posted a video defending his decision.

"Remember Deputy Gelhaus was cleared of multiple independent investigations," he declares, adding "He is highly qualified and he will represent the Sheriff's Office well."

Most in the downtown crowd showed no visible reaction to the protests, although some people clapped, and others spontaneously joined the march.

"You can't have a thousand killings by police every year, and have all of them be justifiable," exclaimed resident Pete Zau.

"I've seen enough things on youtube to make me question the "shoot first, ask questions later" mentality."

Many, like Zau, view the Lopez killing as part of a much larger problem.

"Most of these kids who are shot are minorities," observed resident Bob Miller, "and it doesn't happen in the upper class neighborhoods, but the lower class areas, and police today are so willing to shoot." 

"Kids shouldn't play with toy guns," said Bob Boehm of Lower Lake, more willing to support the Gelhaus promotion. 

"You have to be a pretty good cop to be promoted to a Sergeants position in a department as big as Sonoma County Sheriff's Department," Boehm said.

The student-led protest group has crashed the Wednesday night market before, and plans to do so again, handing out flyers to all who will accept them.