Sunday, July 29, 2012

Anaheim Is Exploding

Anaheim is Exploding in riots that echo the 1960's and 1970's. It is exploding against perceived police brutality.

Disneyland bills itself as “The happiest place on earth.” It is an escape from reality to Fantasyland. Disneyland is sparkling clean, crime free, gang free –a sometimes rare place for a safe, exciting family vacation.

Reality is the grit and grime of the urban world, in this case Anaheim, which has been rioting for a week. 

Anaheim is not the happiest place on earth. The visitors to Disneyland do not see the real Anaheim.

It is the largest city by population (330,000) and second in size in Orange County. Its growth was spurred by Disneyland. Anaheim has the largest convention center on the West Coast, a major league baseball stadium and team, and a professional hockey team and arena. The team calls itself the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim - truly an identity crisis.

Anaheim is a city of high affluence and abject poverty, with poverty outpacing wealth. The unemployment rate is 13.7%.

The increasing Hispanic population is alienated. While comprising 53% of the population, the political structure does not represent them. Neither the Mayor, the five council members, nor police chief are Hispanic. The Hispanics believe that the police resources are concentrated on the affluent neighborhoods and the Disneyland area while their neighborhoods are under-policed and increasingly gang infested. They also believe that law enforcement can be brutal when it does patrol the Hispanic neighborhoods. The Anaheim police are particularly hostile to gang bangers.

Even Disneyland is a mixed blessing. The surrounding area is predominately Hispanic and reaps no benefits from Disneyland, but receives the traffic, noise, and air pollution (the nightly fireworks shows) from the Park. Disneyland to them is a nuisance.

Anaheim police officers shot and killed Manuel Diaz a week ago Saturday while he was running away. The officers assert Manuel, “a documented gang member,” was holding a concealed object in his front waistband with both hands.” He then turned towards the officers and started to pull the object from his waistband. He was unarmed. The rumors were that Manuel was first shot in the leg, and then while down on the ground, shot in the head execution style. That was the story that circulated through the barrio. The community does not trust the police.

The facts remain to be determined. 

The community erupted with rage, the lid on the pressure cooker had blown off. Riots ensued. The lack of trust, as in earlier riots over the past five decades, led to riots against actual or perceived police brutality.

The police’ image was not helped when a police dog handler accidentally released a police dog, which then attacked a resident holding a baby.

The community also remembers the police shooting in 2009 of Salvador Guillen, who was wounded. The 18 year old laid on the ground next to his bike. Whatever he did, or did not do, resulted in no charges filed against him. The officers said, perhaps coincidentally or suspiciously, that Guillen was reaching into his waistband, and they felt threatened.

Have suspcious waistbands replaced the "dropped" guns and knives of 4 decades ago?

I heard a rumor, which must be pervasive if I heard it, that the Anaheim police were retaliating for a gangbanger shotting an officer. I have no reason to believe this rumor, but it is believable to the Hispanic community. That indicates the lack of trust between the community and the police.
Riots broke out Sunday, and demonstrators stormed the lobby of the police department. That shows cajones.

That night, Joel Matthew Acevedo was shot and killed by Anaheim police after firing at officers. Joel was also a gang member with a criminal record.

The Mayor and City Council mishandled the situation Tuesday night. Their scheduled Council meeting started late while members of the community showed up in the hundreds to express their views. That would be a good opportunity to vent.

However, the crowd greatly exceeded the room’s capacity. The city leaders should have postponed the meeting for a short period of time while searching for a larger venue. Instead, they proceeded, locking scores out of the meeting. The Council remained in session until the last person in the room was given an opportunity to talk, but the impression to the greater community, about 1,000 outside, is that they were being shut out again.

Major riots erupted again. 20 businesses were vandalized with some looting.  

Riots and demonstrations continue through the week, with scores of arrests. Calls for peace have rung out from the Mayor, Police Chief and the Diaz family.

Another police shooting occurred Friday, but this time the fleeing suspect was wounded after firing at the police officers.

Sometimes bad karma happens. The Anaheim police have been involved in an unusally high 8 police involved shootings this year, of which five have been fatal.

Note though that the current outrage is directed at the Diaz shooting. His family filed the standard federal civil rights law suit on Tuesday. Even gangbangers have constitutional rights.

The Mayor and City Council have called for outside reviews of the Police Department. The U.S. Attorneys Office, the FBI, and others will investigate.

Attempts to build new bridges to the greater community are beginning.
In the meantime sympathy protests and demonstrations have broken out around the country.

The protests reached Disneyland yesterday, with about 50 protestors holding signs about police brutality in Anaheim. They attracted a host of reporters. Grumpy appeared. Police on horses are outside the main gate to Disneyland.

The Happiest Place on Earth cannot escape its surroundings.

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