The Anaheim City Council in California has sidestepped an opportunity to help resolve tensions in the city after an unarmed man, Manuel Diaz, was shot dead by police last month, and local residents gathering to object were fired at with less-lethal weapons. A later protest at a council meeting on July 24 led to further confrontations when residents attempted to march to the police station.
The council voted down a proposal to create voting districts that would replace the current “at-large” system and help increase Latino representation. Hundreds of people attended the special meeting at the local high school on Wednesday, but despite residents’ heartfelt appeals for redistricting, mayor Tom Tait and councilwoman Lorri Galloway were outvoted by the conservative majority representing the affluent Anaheim Hills area.
The council voted instead to establish a “citizens advisory committee on elections and community involvement.” According to the OC Register, the vote angered many in the audience, who began chanting, “We’ll be back. We’ll be back,” as they left the auditorium.
The council lost an historic chance to restore equality in political representation. As the LA Times editorialized: “Replacing at-large elections with district voting wouldn’t solve the problem overnight, but it would be an important step toward greater civic engagement by Latinos and responsiveness by government. Yet the council had never formally considered such a change until Tait — acting before the shooting — put it on the agenda.”
The sharply divided council also voted down another ballot measure that would require a public vote on tax concessions to hotel developers, eliciting some boos from the crowd – and some yells of “recall.” Many in the Latino community opposed a $158 million tax break given to the builder of two luxury hotels earlier this year, seeing it as depriving their neighborhoods of badly-needed resources.
A number of speakers called for the setting up of a citizens’ police review board, as has been done in some other towns in California, and for a higher level of police professionalism. In an incident which dramatized the city’s polarization between supporters and detractors of police crackdowns on gangs in Anaheim, after Manuel Diaz’s mother made an emotional appeal to the council to provide more resources for children’s recreation in the area, to give them hope, she was interrupted by a man who cursed at her and shouted “You’re a horrible mother.”
A police press conference attempted to undermine the symbolism of Diaz’s killing by identifying him as a member of the Eastside Anaheim gang, following a Friday pre-dawn raid in the area that led to 44 arrests. Police claimed Diaz would have been arrested in the sweep had he been alive.
Local residents were suspicious of the raid’s timing. Ricardo Hurtado told the OC Register: ” I just think this community is being targeted by the police because we’re speaking out. This is all a cover-up. … They never expected this community to blow up like this.” Residents described officers in military camouflage knocking on doors and barging into homes. “My brother has nothing to do with drugs or the weapons that were found,” said Jose Castro, whose brother Eriberto Castro was taken into custody. “I want to know why they have him as a documented gang member.”
Anaheim police claim that local gangs have terrorized the population into distrusting the police, but community spokespeople say that the police themselves have created the mistrust through aggressive and trigger-happy policing.
The police also claim that officer-involved shootings are a response to a rise in violent gang-related crime. However, statistics don’t bear out a connection between police shootings and crime levels. According to an LA Times analysis of autopsy reports, a sharp increase in the number of people fatally shot by police in neighboring Los Angeles County during 2011 took place when the number of homicides in the area fell to historic lows.
In Anaheim this year, the city has recorded 13 homicides, five of them fatal police shootings. In comparison, there have been two other fatal police shootings in all of the rest of Orange County. The LA Times review continues: “In recent years, Orange County prosecutors have reviewed a number of other Anaheim police shootings and deemed them justified even when suspects had no guns. …
“In October 2008, Anaheim police Officer Kevin Flanagan was chasing four juveniles shortly after midnight. Hearing the commotion, Julian Alexander, a 20-year-old African American, came out of his home with a broomstick in his hand. Flanagan, believing he was being threatened, fatally shot Alexander. Prosecutors in March 2009 found that the officer acted within the law, saying that Flanagan had told investigators that he shot Alexander twice after the man raised the stick.”
The fact that law officers who shoot unarmed people appear to face no consequences, and the political demonization of immigrants as responsible for crime and gangs, reinforces a trend to the use of lethal force in poorer communities.
As they made clear in many speeches to the council, Latino residents want to be recognized as an equal part of Anaheim society, to be treated with respect. Aggressive policing denotes their exclusion from the rights of citizenship, and erodes residents’ trust of social authority. The Anaheim gang enforcement unit is perceived as an oppressive force entering the community to terrorize it – a “killing crew,” as it was described at the meeting.
In an academic study of policing after the riots in England last year, the authors conclude that police actions have to be perceived as fair and impartial to gain community support. “The fairness of police actions is important not only because it communicates status and belonging to citizens (in turn generating and sustaining legitimacy), but also because police unfairness encourages division and antagonism, eroding people’s connections to institutions and society (and undermining legitimacy). Furthermore, when the police lose their legitimacy in the eyes of the policed they lose their claim to the monopoly of the use of force.”
The protests against Diaz’s killing challenged the legitimacy of police violence in the city. While residents are generally supportive of actions to curb gangs and drugs, nothing has been done to alleviate their source in unemployment, poverty and bad housing. The lack of jobs and social facilities, institutionalized racism, and the control of the council by representatives of the white suburbs contribute to increased tensions within the community.
Residents are conflicted about outside groups coming in to support their protests, some viewing them as disrespectful of the community’s own efforts.
According to the OC Weekly, “two groups have made their presence known in the Anna Drive neighborhood, seeking to radicalize local youths in the aftermath of the tragedy: the Revolutionary Communist Party (RCP) and the … Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action, Integration and Immigrant Rights and Fight for Equality By Any Means Necessary (a.k.a. BAMN) formed in 1995 in response to the UC Regents’ decision to ban affirmative action. … But residents interviewed by the Weekly were not happy with those outsiders trying to convert them to their views. ‘I was fine with them at first, but they took it too far,’ Mariano Macedo says of the groups, such as RCP, who were ‘swooping in’.”
Others welcomed outside supporters. Jaclyn Conroy, whose nephew Justin Hertl was shot and killed by police in 2003, told the OC Register: “It puts a tear in my eye that people from outside the area have come to support us. They’ve helped bring a national spotlight and that allows us here locally to talk to people about the problems we’re having with police.”
The inclusive principles of the Occupy movement have more to offer the Anaheim community than the prescriptions of left groupings for building a new political leadership. Anaheim is in fact an example of the effects of starving federal resources to cities and states in order to finance the continued subsidy of corporations and big banks. The important thing is to find ways of forging alliances between different groups in struggle and to create a new model of resistance that challenges the construction of a police state.