Residents of Anaheim, CA are familiar with the slight smell of smoke in the air from the nightly fireworks show put on by Disneyland, famous for it’s moniker as “The happiest place on earth!” Last night however, residents were not just hearing the pop and crackle of the fireworks they were used to. It was the popcorn spattering of police gunfire in the downtown community as riot police took to the streets to disperse protesters outraged about a string of lethal police shootings in the city.
The first thing I heard was the unusually large number of helicopters. Living near the freeway on the border of Anaheim and Fullerton, I generally ignore them. I was spending time in the evening with my son and girlfriend when I started to get multiple texts from local friends asking if I was okay, which I was. I was aware of the shootings but not what had happened yesterday and over the weekend. I looked for news on local channels but as usual that’s not a very reliable source. So social media filled in the gaps very quickly.
Thanks to a friend over at Inside Fullerton it wasn’t long before I was watching the live video feed of TimCast, an amateur journalist on uStream. While KCAL9 and Telemundo reporters were on scene, they were watching from a relatively safe distance among their own personal security. Tim Pool, however, was not so timid in his reporting as he followed the protesters without the safety of being behind the police line. Ultimately, he and another social media journalist were shot at with less than lethal weapons by police, continuing to take fire after attempting to flee (adhering to the dispersal) and at one point being pinned down by gunfire unable to flee without risking injury. The story told by Tim Pool’s cast is a bit different than what you will see out of the manstream media or press.
I learned today that according to Anaheim police, over 1000 people ultimately gathered outside and inside city hall. When they were told to disperse, the crowd pushed back but gave ground. For a few hours the protest was allowed to continue but was eventually declared an unlawful assembly and ordered to disburse. The situation quickly devolved into what was immediately declared a violent protest and a riot. Angry residents who felt they had not been given a voice or opportunity to be heard by the city council were pushed out into the streets by police. Yes, they set trash cans on fire, blocked a few intersections and then there was that all too familiar sound of gunfire as police began to fire less than lethal rounds into the crowd.
While one might want to think this was a normal police action, it gives a person pause when they understand what happened just a few days prior that is conveniently excluded from most news stories on the events just following the fatal shooting of Manuel Diaz. Local residents, angry at the brutality of the shooting, expressed their outrage at the police who quickly lost control of the situation when residents began throwing water bottles. The police response to a public outcry against police brutality was itself, inexplicably brutal. Imagine police, firing indiscriminately into a crowd of men, women and children, including infants. Imagine letting a K9 loose into the crowd. This was not an orderly dispersal of an unruly crowd. It’s not something you have to imagine because it was caught on tape.
According to witnesses, a five year old girl was shot in the eye with a less than lethal round. Another young girl came forward to say that she was shot in the leg. Take that in for a moment. Are these “rioters” or are these actually children? Ask yourself what kind of mentality it takes to follow an order to fire rounds into a crowd that includes children in large numbers; in their neighborhood. This just makes no sense but it happened.
I would be remiss if I didn’t express my personal and vehement outrage at the idea, much less the reality, of police opening fire into a crowd that included children much less letting a K9 loose whether it was an intentional order or not. I don’t much care if the K9 units involvement was unintentional as the police seem to have claimed or how quickly the K9 unit was restrained. You don’t use dogs on children. You don’t point guns at children.
Unless I’m mistaken, we as a society, haven’t tolerated the shooting of an unarmed man in the back, ever. Even in the 1800′s, the days of the wild west, it wasn’t legal for an officer of the law to shoot a man in the back. Those that did became outlaws themselves and often met their end at the gallows. Today, in the 21st Century, we give them paid administrative leave and far too often look the other way.
Police, yet again, attempting to disperse the crowd outside city hall on Tuesday, failed to do so without ultimately again using gunfire and it’s no surprise the protesters turned into rioters. All in all, the actual physical damage caused by the rioters was minimal with the bulk of damage to “persons and property” being done by the Police themselves. A Starbucks and a few other local businesses windows were smashed in, a few very small fires were started and a few people received minor injuries aside from those shot by the police. The Anaheim police reported that they had arrested over 24 people in relation to the riot. Some of those arrests include a few skater youth detained without much cause at the VONS late in the evening as can be seen on the TimCast archive.
While the mother of Manuel Diaz, the man shot in the back and the head by police officers, has filed a 50 million dollar lawsuit in federal court she also made statements to encourage the community to end the violence on both sides.
Sadly, this is not the beginning of this story nor is this the first time the residents of Anaheim cried out for justice against police brutality. This is the second police shooting in a week and the fifth so far this year along with a string of suicides and strange deaths occurring in Orange County jails. Anyone who has lived in Anaheim or nearby knows that racial tensions between the police and the Latino community have never been good but now they are on the verge of a complete breakdown as tensions mount over the shootings. I’ve lived in this town for over a decade and the Latino community is strong here but it is far from the happiest place on earth. Protests against police brutality in Anaheim goes far back as the 1978 Little People’s Park Riot which bares striking similarities to the incident that occurred this past Saturday when police shot into the crowd of women and children. Following the 1978 riot many changes took place in department policy but it’s fairly evident that over the years those policies have not kept in stride with the community nor helped to alleviate the racial tensions between the now dominant Lantino community of Anaheim and the Police department that is sworn to protect and serve them.
Ultimately, it is the responsibility of the police department to protect and serve the public; their public. Even more importantly, to protect the innocent and the law abiding residents of Anaheim and at an absolute minimum, the children within this community. What strikes me as most appalling about this entire story is that which is best said by the very children who were involved. These are, after all, the next generation of this community. No matter what happens, they deserve a strong, peaceful community and it’s up to us to make sure that they get it.
It’s difficult to say whether or not this incident and the outrage of local residents will have any impact on policy or local government here in Anaheim. However residents have their neighbors in Fullerton to draw inspiration from. After the horrifically brutal, deadly beating of Kelly Thomas, a local homeless and mentally ill man, by Fullerton police officers, Fullertonians united and took to the streets in peaceful protest forming what has now been dubbed as “Kelly’s Army”. In the end, that peaceful but outraged movement ousted the Fullerton police and city council members who failed to serve the community and sought justice for Kelly’s family. I would hope that the residents of Anaheim can draw from the example of Fullerton and rather than take their rage to the streets that they take their city back, ballot by ballot rather than block by block.
Then someday, maybe the children who live here can call it the happiest place on earth.