Anaheim is the largest city in Southern California’s conservative Orange County and home to Disneyland which is called “The Happiest Place on Earth”. During the past week, the city has experienced two police killings that have resulted in a series of protests being organized against city and police officials by enraged Latino residents. The immediate issue that ignited these angry protests was the killing of 25 year-old Manuel Diaz on July 21, 2012.
Diaz, who was unarmed and talking to friends, ran as the police approached and was shot in the leg and then in the back of the head as he lay face down on the ground. An angry group of residents exited their homes and gathered to demand answers from the police at the scene. The police attempted to prevent any filming of the incident by witnesses instead of calling for an ambulance to aid the dying Diaz. An unnecessary confrontation was then created by the police as they resorted to violence rather than dialogue by firing rubber bullets and pepper balls at the growing crowd of concerned neighbors which included women and children. The residents became even more infuriated as a police dog was unleashed which proceeded to attack them and a passing family with a young baby. A day later, another man named Joel Acevedo was shot and killed by police who alleged that he had fired at them. This was the seventh officer-involved shooting by Anaheim police this year with five being fatal. On Tuesday, July 24, a protest drew over a thousand angry people to City Hall which the police declared to be an unlawful assembly. This then led to a violent clash as the police attempted to aggressively disperse the enraged protesters whose simmering frustration has been fueled by years of growing unemployment, inferior education, police harassment and neglect by city officials. City Hall and the Police Department building were damaged and twenty-four people were subsequently arrested as tempers continued to flare over the heavy-handed police tactics and their history of harassment and use of force within the Latino community. Other recent protests were held this past weekend at Disneyland and other Anaheim locations as the city’s mounted police along with police from other departments confronted over 300 protesters and pushed them off of the streets. Protest marches also took place in support of the Anaheim protesters in San Francisco and Denver.
A Latino majority governed by a minority of the well-to-do
The Chicano/Mexicano population of Anaheim has now exceeded 53% and primarily resides in the barrios of the flatlands. Meanwhile, the minority of higher-income whites live in the pricier Anaheim Hills and maintain a tight control over city government, the school board and the police department. The attention of Anaheim’s city officials is primarily focused upon Disneyland, the Anaheim Convention Center and hotel district, and the Angels baseball and Ducks hockey teams. All of these corporations have received millions of dollars in subsidies and tax breaks in the past from the city’s politicians at the expense of barrio residents and their social service needs. Only three Latinos have ever been elected to the city council, however they were a conservative Democrat and two Republicans who did not do much to effect change. Latino voters who represent about one-third of the electorate have been hampered from electing any progressive representatives who are willing to make fundamental changes and improve conditions by the present system of at-large voting. Alleging that this system in Anaheim violates the Voting Rights Act, the American Civil Liberties Union has a lawsuit pending against the city whose objective is to eliminate this at-large system and implement a more democratic one whereby each council member is elected only by the voters of his or her district.
The economic haves and have-nots and its effect on community services
Anaheim has a long history of race and class discrimination and was once known as klanaheim during the 1920′s for it large Klan membership. Over 70 percent of the city’s population are minorities (Latino 53%, Asians 15%, blacks 2%), who do not receive their fair share of resources as taxpayers. Tax revenues have been diverted to assist the corporate sector within the city while few resources are allocated to benefit the lower-income residents of the flatlands in terms of education, vocational training and youth programs. In effect, the have-nots who do not have true political representation within the city, are receiving the short end of the resource stick. Meanwhile, the politicians who represent the haves, benefit from the present system as do their corporate benefactors who repay these city politicians by supporting their electoral campaigns. The current recession has created high unemployment within the lower-income barrios as 15% of the city now lives below the poverty level. Particularly hard-hit by the recession are Anaheim’s young people as the city’s population has a median age of 31 years. This situation has created other problems such as an increase in high school dropouts, gang membership, drug use and a festering anger toward the city’s ruling elite. Mayor Tom Tait and the city council have consistently responded to these growing social problems with denial and a heavy police presence that relies on a traditional policy of harassment and excessive force to keep these communities in line. Adding to these problems is the Anaheim school board which blames undocumented students for the problems within the educational system and rejects the need for any reforms. This recent eruption of anger and protests by the Latino community has demonstrated the failure of these inequitable policies of neglect by the city’s misleaders.
A series of fundamental changes needs to be made by the city
There is a history of misconduct and abuse by the Anaheim police as these recent killings are not simply rare and isolated incidents.
There is no excuse for shooting Manuel Diaz in the back of the head as he was unarmed and had committed no crime. Such an action by the Anaheim police is objectively an execution. Legally, lawsuits need to be filed against the city for this latest killing and for the past practice of racial profiling and pattern of harassment aimed at barrio residents. In addition, political pressure has to be applied on the Orange County District Attorney and the U.S. Justice Department to investigate and file criminal charges in regard to any blatant wrongdoing by the police and their chief John Welter. The ACLU lawsuit that is pending in regard to voting rights violations needs to be supported in order to change the present system to a more democratic one. However, if this suit is successful, more community input will be required to support and elect progressive candidates who honestly want to improve economic and social conditions for the majority of people in Anaheim rather than continue the practice of favoring Disneyland and the hotel-corporate sector. A political struggle waged by grassroots community organizations will be necessary in order to institute a permanent police review board that is truly independent and objective in dealing with alleged cases of abuse within the city and which can hold police officials accountable. Economically, the city’s priorities and use of tax resources must be drastically changed by eliminating the present corporate welfare and instead focusing on improving the educational system, providing needed vocational training and creating youth programs that can assist in preventing gang membership and drug use. In essence, the city’s tax revenues need to be utilized to develop the human resources of the community’s residents instead of continuing to promote the large profits of the city’s corporate-financial powers.
Anaheim: a microcosm of broader Latino issues
The race and class issues afflicting the working class barrios of Anaheim mirror those that are affecting many Latino communities throughout the country. While these local struggles have to be organized and dealt with, a broader perspective and action is also urgently required as these festering conditions are creating a strong undercurrent of anger and impatience among young people. These local eruptions over unjust conditions and policies need to be responded to and supported by civil rights organizations. However, these organizations also need to forge a comprehensive national plan that pinpoints the general problems and issues that pertain to most Latinos and that proposes concrete solutions which can be adapted to local conditions. What are these common issues that affect Latino communities across the country? A need for improved education, job training, health care, drug and alcohol prevention programs, youth counseling and gang-prevention programs, and the elimination of police harassment. This will take an allocation of resources for social needs that must be fought for through participation in broad-based coalitions. There are many Anaheims across the country whose social and economic problems require both the organized response of political unity as well as the will to resolve them on a national and local scale. These social prairie fires that are breaking out such as the one in Anaheim will continue to erupt and grow until a broad preventive plan for change is adopted, fought for and carried out in practice.