As protests against police shootings continue in Anaheim, California, different movements are coming together around residents’ spontaneous resistance. Americans in Anaheim who are asserting their right to political representation in local government and to live without the fear of unbridled police violence make clear that the social movement underlying Occupy has not disappeared but strengthened, despite the dispersal of the original occupations. In the wake of the massive bank bailout, cities like Anaheim have ignored their poorer neighborhoods and instead give corporate welfare to real estate and tourist industries in the form of tax breaks, while police clamp down on social upheaval.
The protests began after an unarmed man, 24-year-old Manuel Diaz, was shot and killed on Saturday, July 21, after he allegedly ran from police who stopped to question him in the street. According to the Orange County Register: “A 17-year-old who lives in the neighborhood said she saw the shooting from about 20 feet away. She said Diaz had his back to the officer and was shot in the buttocks area. Diaz went down on his knees, and she said he was struck by another bullet in the head. The other officer handcuffed Diaz, who by then was on the ground and not moving, she added.”
Another man, Joel Acevedo, was shot dead by police the following day, who say he was a suspect in a car robbery. That marked the fifth fatality from officer-involved shootings in Anaheim this year. After Diaz’s death, local residents protested the shooting but were met by police firing bean-bag rounds, pepper balls and tear gas. Police claimed they responded to rocks and bottles thrown by the crowd, but residents told CBS the police created the disturbance by overreacting, shooting the less-lethal rounds at people gathered in the street, including women holding their children in front of their homes. Video of the scene shows a police dog chasing people, eventually biting a man on his arm as he shields his infant son.
Gustavo Arellano, the editor of the Orange County Weekly, spoke to Democracy Now about the weekend’s events. “The police officers, in the case of Manuel Diaz, they admit that Diaz was unarmed. They say that he ran from them, and then, after that, though, they won’t say why they decided to shoot him. However, residents at the scene—the OC Weekly, we obtained a video shot immediately after Diaz was gunned down by the police officers, and he’s lying on the ground there for three minutes, and instead of caring—and he’s still alive—instead of caring for his body, instead of caring for him to make sure he doesn’t pass away, they seem to care more about pushing residents away from the scene, especially those residents who are taking video of the incident, and also blocking their cameras. At the very end of the three-minute clip, they finally turn him over. Even though the video is grainy, you could still see all the blood from Diaz’s head.”
The Anaheim police department stands behind the shootings, invoking anti-terrorism rhetoric and claiming that both men were gang members. “As the war against street-gang terrorism continues in cities across America, including Anaheim, the fine men and women of the Anaheim Police Department will continue to serve and protect all the residents of Anaheim who live in fear of gang violence,” Police Association President Kerry Condon said in an open letter to the OC Register.
Outraged citizens attended the Anaheim City Council meeting the following Tuesday, which voted to ask the U.S. Attorney’s office to investigate the shootings. Although about 200 residents were able to get in, a large number of people were excluded, and according to the OC Register, they “were rebuffed by police officers who cited fire standards and would not let anyone else into the crowded council chambers.” During a one-hour delay while people tried to push into the chamber, protesters decided to march to police headquarters and back again to City Hall, when police arrested a demonstrator on suspicion of gun possession.
The LA Times reported that after the arrest, “protesters threw bricks, bottles and shoes at officers. One man in a blue jersey was tackled and carried away by police. Others lit firecrackers as people gathered by a gas station and chanted ‘Si se puede,’ or ‘Yes we can’.” Police ordered the crowd to disperse shortly before 9 p.m., and 300 police officers in riot gear used batons, pepper balls and beanbag bullets allegedly to disperse them. The New York Times referenced a video report that showed police firing projectiles at people even though they were not traveling in large crowds. The freelance journalist Tim Pool, who was live-streaming the protests on Ustream Tuesday night, showed on video how the police fired projectiles at him after he waved a press card and identified himself as a member of the news media.
On Wednesday morning, Anaheim mayor Tom Tait voiced support for Tuesday evening’s police action, telling a press conference: “We will not accept any violence perpetrated under the guise of public protest.” The police blamed the violence on outsiders, although the majority of those arrested were city residents.
What’s behind the tensions in Anaheim, whose Disneyland theme park is taglined “the happiest place on earth”? The Guardian explains how the town is divided by a class and ethnic apartheid. “The city’s western half [the Flatlands] is poor, predominantly Latino, smoggy, economically depressed and so riddled with crime and street violence that many people say they are afraid to leave their homes. But the eastern half – the Anaheim Hills – is affluent, conservative and predominantly white. …
“Many Latinos complain that their political leaders are out of touch and cannot understand their day-to-day problems. All but one of the city’s five council members lives in the Hills, and none of them is Latino. In fact, in the city’s 142-year history, only three Latinos have ever served on the city council – a by-product of the ‘at large’ voting system which removes the obligation to hold local council seat elections district by district. ‘A feeling of disenfranchisement pervades the Flatlands area of the city,’ said Bardis Vakili, a lawyer with the American Civil Liberties Union, which is suing Anaheim for violating the civil rights of its Latino population through its voting system.”
The Huffington Post reports an interview with Jose Moreno, a California State University professor and president of Los Amigos Orange County. He said: “What we have here is concentrated power in the hands of a wealthy minority, a working-class and working-poor Latino majority that feels it has no voice coupled with completely uneven distribution of the city’s resources. And then, the deaths of two young Latino men in the span of one weekend.” He also said that over the last 15 years, a developer-controlled political action committee injected large sums of money into local elections, ensuring that pro-business candidates are elected to city offices.
One of those pro-business candidates was councilwoman Gail Eastman. Since Tuesday evening’s protests prevented the council from discussing its regular business, including ballot initiatives that would subject future hotel room-tax subsidies to citywide votes and change the at-large voting system, she posted a message for her constituents that described the evening as a “big time win for all who opposed seeing that placed on the November ballot. Tonight we celebrate a win with no shots fired!” She later apologized for the callous nature of her remarks, but too late to hide her true priorities.
In an OC Weeklyeditorial, Gustavo Arellano pointed out: “During the past decade, the [Anaheim] council … has awarded millions of dollars in subsidies to hotel and retail developers and dumped even more millions on the so-called Resort District, the area around Disneyland that’s now slowly bulging into Angels Stadium. Within City Hall, staff has been directed to favor the well-to-do at the expense of the hoi polloi, all with impunity when it’s not conducted in secret. Meanwhile, the rest of the city has slowly crumbled.”
The growing impoverishment of the Latino community is dealt with by rigid segregation from Disneyland and a heavily militarized police force to suppress protest. Disneyland visitors traverse a separate corridor to the resort, never seeing or coming into contact with the working-class areas. Most Disney visitors were unaware of Tuesday’s protests a mere two miles away. As the Washington Post notes: “More than 17 million people visited Anaheim last year and spent nearly $4.6 billion. Few ever see much of the city, however. Visitors to the neatly manicured theme park or Angel Stadium can reach their destinations by zipping off the freeway and into a parking lot without passing through the city’s residential neighborhoods.”
Yesterday afternoon, Saturday July 28, about 100 protesters gathered outside one of the entrances to Disneyland. Over two dozen police, some on horseback, watched them from a distance. Another group gathered at the memorial site for Manuel Diaz. Earlier in the day, members of the Occupy movement had met with the protestors to provide training on non-violent demonstration tactics and press relations. “We don’t want to see any more of the violence,” George Olivio, an organizer with Occupy Orange County, told NBC News. “We’re making an emergency outreach, trying to do as much training as possible … to keep demonstrations peaceful.” Protesters said they believed Disney controlled the city of Anaheim and demanded the company place pressure on the city to have the officers involved in the shootings prosecuted. They said they planned to return to Disneyland Sunday and on future weekends.
About 250 protesters gathered outside the Anaheim police department Sunday, after being prevented from marching to Disneyland by a police blockade. The crowd — whose chants included “The whole system is guilty” and “Am I next?” — included members of Occupy Orange County and Kelly’s Army, a protest group formed after the fatal police beating of Kelly Thomas in Fullerton last year.
Occupy supporters are playing an important role in raising consciousness and helping to strategize the protests. It’s necessary to make clear to new social layers joining the struggle that all sections of society are impacted by the economic and political crisis and that all citizens have the right to select their representatives and participate in the struggle to overturn financial dictatorship.