Violence is eating away the moral core of Anaheim. For their part, local authorities are spending most of their time denouncing “outsiders” they say are a threat to the community.
"They chose violence and vandalism over respectful communications" Anaheim Mayor Tom Tait said at news conference following recent violence in his city, claiming most protesters are not from Anaheim. He denounced those trying to “create chaos in our downtown neighborhoods." Anaheim Police Chief John Welter reinforced the anti-violence message: "We will not allow riotous, dangerous violations of the law by anyone..." Such statements appear to indicate that Latino protesters pose an urgent threat to stability in Anaheim.
But then there's the community perspective.
"There were pieces of brain on the ... darn grass, in front of all these children, in front of all these people," Anaheim resident Theresa Smith told a news outlet after walking by her neighbor’s home, where Anaheim police shot Manuel Diaz, an unarmed man, in the back of the head. Smith knows well the pain of her neighbors. Her own son was killed by Anaheim police officers in 2009 in another highly controversial incident. "This traumatizes people, and these people (protesters) are angry."
For her part, Genevieve Huizar, the mother of the Manuel Diaz, also feels deeply the violence that is destabilizing her community.
“I watched as my son took his last breath. I watched as his heart stopped beating for the last time.” When the community demanded answers about the violence that killed Diaz, police responded with more shooting rubber bullets and unleashing a police dog into a crowd that included children.
“They just started shooting everyone. They shot at little kids too!” a screaming Susan Lopez told a local news outlet following Saturday's shooting.
What is most striking about these statements by local official and community members are the polar opposite messages they are sending. Anaheim officials have denounced violence from “outsiders,” not the police violence against residents. The officials are most passionate about “violence” - kicking police cars, throwing bottles, burning garbage cans - in the streets. Smith, Huizar and most community members locate the most destabilizing violence at 425 S. Harbor Blvd., the headquarters of the Anaheim police department. When it comes to violence, officials appear to be spending more time on the Disneyland side of Harbor boulevard than on the reality side of the street.
This extreme difference in perspectives points not just to the moral and political bankruptcy of the Mayor Tait and Chief Welter, it also points to the urgent need for “outsiders” to protect Anaheim residents from the police. In the face of the inability of Tait and Welter to rein in the escalating police violence that endangers Anaheim residents, these same residents are ironically calling on outside law enforcement, namely California State Attorney General Kamala Harris and U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, to step in and protect them from the spiral of violence that is even impacting Anaheim children.
In a matter of days, more than 17,000 people California and the entire country have signed a petition from Presente.org calling on Attorney General Harris to protect the people of Anaheim by conducting a deep investigation into the killing of Diaz, the police violence against crowds that Tait, Welter and other 'insiders' have shown themselves incapable of investigating and acting on. While Tait's recent moves to ask for an external investigation are encouraging and welcome, there are no confirmed reports of a thorough investigation. None. Also, these calls for assistance are very new and need to be amplified and followed through if there is ever to be true peace and safety in Anaheim.
The officer-involved killing of Diaz and another man killed by police, also under circumstances the community finds questionable, follow a growing number of Latino bodies impacted by the excessive and deadly force used by Anaheim Police. Attorneys General Harris and Holder must step in to investigate and deliver justice before this epidemic of killings, beating and other abuses that Tait and, especially, Welter lack the political will to stop.
The cancer of excessive and deadly force by Anaheim Police against Latinos is profoundly disturbing. In the last year alone, there've been six officer-involved shootings (five of whom are Latino). Smith and other victims’ families have held weekly protests outside police headquarters for many, many weeks.
Rather than try to avert attention away from police violence, rather making passionate denunciations of “outsiders”, Tate, Welter and other Anaheim officials need to show passion -and compassion-for the families and communities suffering under the rotten boot of police violence. These officials must assert their roles and do everything in their power to encourage and enable Harris and Holder to clean up the bloody mess left not by violent “outsiders” but by those that eat away the moral core of Anaheim: the violent insiders of the Anaheim Police department.
Roberto Lovato, Writer, Co-Founder of Presente.org.