What the Hell is Happening in Anaheim? (Chaos Outside the Walls of Disneyland)

“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. We want this to be the happiest place on earth, but it’s not for those of us who live here…” – Jose Moreno, California State University-Long Beach professor, serves on the Anaheim City School Board and president of Los Amigos Orange County, a community organization.

West County SWAT watches over protestors along Ball Road in the City of Anaheim.

Tensions between the hispanic community and the local police department in Anaheim – the city that houses Disneyland – have been escalating for some time. Now it seems the boiling point has finally been reached.

Multiple fatal shootings by the police, the “accidental” release of a police dog in full attack mode on protestors with children on hand and officers being caught wearing misleading badge numbers to keep from being identified while harassing hispanic youth have culminated in violent marches in the streets and calls for a federal investigation.

Just to show you how tense it all seems, below is a cellphone video showing a veritable phalanx of police, and even a police helicopter, detaining a hispanic youth for standing outside a sidewalk memorial to one of the police shooting victims. In the video, police, one wearing a badge number that does not correspond to his name, commit a reportedly illegal search of the youth’s person, handcuff him for having sharpies in his backpack and essentially occupy the entire neighborhood.

So what the hell is going on?

On July 21, at 4 pm, Manuel Diaz, a 25-year-old man, was shot dead by police. Police said Diaz, who had a criminal record, failed to heed orders and threw something as he fled. He was unarmed and running away from them. A witness of the shooting has claimed that Diaz had his back to the shooting officer. The witness claims that Diaz was shot in the buttocks first, went down on his knees then was struck by a second bullet in the head. The witness then said officers handcuffed Diaz, who was on the ground and not moving. Here’s video taken directly after the shooting, notice Diaz’s body in the grass…

Then, the very next night, police shot to death Joel Acevedo, a suspected gang member they say fired at them after being pursued.

The two shootings in two nights triggered a wave of violent protests from the population of Anaheim that lasted, on and off, for four days.

KCAL-TV captured video of the police responding to protesters on Sunday through extreme crowd control techniques. It shows images of people screaming and running from tear gas and adults shielding children from beanbag rounds fired by officers. It also shows a police dog running towards several people, including a child in a stroller. The dog attacked at least one man. The police say the dog was “deployed accidentally”.

Here’s the KCAL report, including the video…

Throughout the duration of the protests police reported smashed windows, trash cans set on fire, rocks and bottles thrown at police and damage done to City Hall and police headquarters as demonstrators stormed the Anaheim police department, filling the lobby.

A fiery dumpster pushed into traffic during the protests.

Then, early Friday morning police opened fire on a burglary suspect, a getaway driver who allegedly tried to run over a cop with his car. The suspect was unhurt. But that made three shootings in Anaheim in a single week. More police gun discharges than in all of Los Angeles last week. What’s more, this was the city’s seventh gun discharge this year, five of which have been fatal. In all of 2011 there were only four cases of “gun discharge” in Anaheim.

Police presence in Anaheim looks like a military occupation.

The hacker group Anonymous responded Friday afternoon by posting Anaheim Police Chief John Welter’s address, phone number and other personal information across the internet.

On Monday the protests continued, as hundreds dressed in white walked five-people across, shoulder to shoulder, towards Disneyland chanting “Whose streets? Our streets!”  A police line closing several traffic intersections forced the demonstrators to head away from the resort. Nine were arrested for failure to disperse, blocking traffic and other obstructionist violations. City Councilwoman Kris Murray and state Sen. Lou Correa, a Democratic representative of Anaheim, were among the marchers.

Now community organizers are calling on state Attorney General Kamala Harris to investigate the Anaheim Police Department. They have hand delivered 17,000 signatures to Harris’ office showing support for such an action. In the meantime, the FBI has agreed to investigate any possible civil rights abuses in the shootings.

Earlier today Mayor Tait called an emergency public Council meeting for next Wednesday.

So are the multiple shootings in the space of days simply a sign that the Anaheim police are doing everything they can to keep law-and-order in a tough part of Orange County? Or are the police, as the protestors claim, draconian, racist and run-amok?

The police are leading us to believe that only one of the shooting victims was unarmed. You know, the one that was shot in the back… twice… including one headshot. To be fair to their portrayal as an embattled organization, Anaheim does have a higher crime rate than the California average, but speaking just statistically, not taking each shooting on a case-by-case basis, at the very least I’d say this is the most trigger-happy police force in the state right now.

And a final word about the crime in Anaheim. Community-wide crime  is always a product of generationally institutionalized factors such as low-income , socio-political marginalization, and general inequality. Over the last few decades the face of Anaheim has changed. What was once a safe-haven for conservative white culture has grown more and more Latino. Meanwhile the faces that run Anaheim, the politicians and the police, have stayed predominantly white. Historically, this is a very common set-up for violent social unrest as a community with shifting cultural values finds itself unrepresented by the powers that be.

One look at the police response in the first video in this post and it’s obvious that the Anaheim police department feel like they’re losing control. A confident police force with the public on its side doesn’t show up with ten police cars, an unmarked vehicle (with a shotgun pointing out the window) and a k-9 unit just to search a teen’s backpack who hasn’t been witnessed breaking any laws.

And the fear is, it’s going to get worse before it gets better.

Here’s links for further information and fact clarification…

Demonstrators storm police department in Calif. to protest deadly officer-involved shooting

Anaheim Police Shooting Survivor Says Cops Shot ‘Again and Again’

How Anaheim is Policing the Crisis: The Mass Deployment of Special Weapons and Tactics Teams

Anaheim Riots Sparked By Power Imbalance, Police Shootings In Time-Tested Formula

– Joshua Dysart

Posted on by Joshua Dysart Posted in Journal, News & Politics

4 Responses to What the Hell is Happening in Anaheim? (Chaos Outside the Walls of Disneyland)

  1. Michael Sacal

    um…so this started because the police shot someone who ran from them (innocent people don’t run, right?) their mistake was using real bullets instead of rubber bullets or beanbags, right?

    • Joshua Dysart

      Hey Michael! Thanks for commenting. I just want to focus on one thing you said first…

      “Innocent People don’t run”?

      So let’s say Diaz was guilty. But guilty of what? Holding some drugs? Doing graffiti? The police have found no evidence of any drugs or graffiti, but even so, should he have been shot twice from behind, once in the head, to death for either of those crimes (on a side note, even non-lethal rounds have killed people)?

      And what if there’s a long history of police abuse and harassment in a community (which there is in Anaheim)? Should he have run from them then? Even if he’s not doing anything wrong? Just to keep from being harassed, or beaten?

      “Innocent people don’t run” seems like an over-simplified and super-generalized statement that betrays the subtlety of a community in crises. A community that has lost complete faith in its law enforcement. It is not the job of the community to inspire faith in their law enforcement. It is the job of the law enforcement to inspire faith in their community. If the vast majority of your community, Parents and teachers and school kids feel so strongly that they march on the police department, if your youth – mostly non-criminals – wage war in the streets with your police… then law enforcement have lost the faith of that community. And ultimately it’s never, ever just about one single event. It is always, throughout history, a building storm that is finally stressed to the point of breaking. The Los Angeles riots, which happened 20 years ago this year, were not because a black man was beaten by several police and caught on video. It was because the black community in Los Angeles had felt beaten down themselves, ostracized and marginalized for decades upon decades. It was a building storm. And then the lightening and the rain came.

      I wrote about many things in the article. One important fact I talked about is that members of the Anaheim police department are discharging their weapons at a higher rate than the Los Angeles police department. Anaheim has one of the highest rates of police firearm discharges in the United States right now. Anaheim certainly doesn’t have more violent crime than Los Angeles? I know you’re down in Mexico, but I’m sure you’re familiar with Los Angeles as the birth place of modern gang culture. Or the fact that LA is seven million people, a large portion of which live in poverty. It’s true that LA is a small city compared to Mexico City, but it’s massive in relation to Anaheim. The fact that Los Angeles police are discharging their weapons less than Anaheim police must be endemic of something very disturbing. I also write about the changing cultural climate of Anaheim and how this is causing political disenfranchisement. And I write about the sustained tensions that have been building for some time between the Latino community and the predominantly white police force. Not at length, mind you, because, God knows, I have comic books to write. But it’s in there.

      What I mean is that things are more complicated than the way you have stated them above. Thanks for the question! 🙂

  2. Ezra

    Thanks for putting this up Josh. We’ve been struggling with similar issues here in Seattle but have yet to see any large general protests. We did see some individual retaliatory attacks on the police during the height of the problems. If you read up on it there is some clear and interesting protectionism happening with the SPD; “Lost” dash cam recordings, no findings of unjustified violence my IA ever and other sketchy things.

    It seems folks have begun to easily write off questionable deaths if the victim is a member of a different social group. There has also been little questioning of the militarization of the police force. The response by the police in the video of Coyotl should be investigated, even for how tame it is compared with other over reactions. In a city with higher than average crime rates, 10+ police should not be called to question and search one person. The police should not be allowed to stop and search one person not seen breaking laws. And, sharpies should never be considered contraband.

    Citizens need to pressure their government into auditing their police forces and passing meaningful reforms that impose penalties for breaking the rules. The lack of accountability needs to end. The police should be subject to inspection by a council of community members.

    This sort of turned into a rant….

    • Joshua Dysart


      I love it. If you can’t rant here, then where can you rant?! Thank you so much for posting. I’m in 100% agreement with everything you’ve said.

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