Official seal of Anaheim (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Anaheim has long been famous for being home to Disneyland, the happiest place on earth. However, last week Anaheim became the epicenter of perhaps the most intense community unrest a southern Californian city has experience since the famous 1992 riots in Los Angeles. The LA riots, which began a little of 20 years ago, left 53 dead, thousands injured, and forever changed Los Angeles.
The unrest in Anaheim the last few weeks has garnered national attention and brought to light ethnic and socioeconomic tensions in a city famous for its tourist attractions. The unrest began following the fatal police shooting of two young Latino men last weekend. In the days following the shooting, demonstrations and turmoil swelled. The pinnacle of the conflict occurred on Tuesday night when 1000 protesters took to the streets. In the hours that followed, police from Anaheim, as well as local cities such as Orange, Brea, Huntington Beach, Fullerton, and Garden Grove, attempted to control the crowd by firing rubber bullets and pepper spray balls into the rowdy mob. The protestors reacted by lighting a dumpster on fire, smashing police cars, and breaking the windows of local businesses. By the time the night was over 24 people had been arrested, a unlawful assembly had been declared, thousands of dollars in damage had been incurred to over 20 buildings, and the riots in Anaheim made national news.
In an effort to squash the conflict, the United States Department of Justice announced that it would be investigating the alleged civil rights violations in regards to the shooting of two young Latino men.
While 53 percent of Anaheim’s residents are Hispanic, this population is highly underrepresented in city council as well as in the police and fire departments. Many believe this disparity has caused much of the tension between law enforcement officials and local residents. Alejandro Moreno, a member of a Hispanic advocacy group in the region, told the Christian Science Monitor, “There are more police dedicated to making sure that those resort areas are crime free rather than the rest of the Latino communities in Orange County,” he says. “These people want to create ‘the happiest place on earth’ and have Latinos come and help and clean up, but they don’t want them living there because they say they don’t look good, and don’t take care of their homes.”
As noted, the tipping point in this situation was the police shooting of two Latino men. The first, Manuel Angel Diaz, 25 was shot while running from police. The second, Joel Acevedo, 21, a known gang member was shot during a police pursuit while reaching for something in his waistband which officers believed to be a gun. Media outlets, as well as the Diaz family attorney, have said that Diaz was shot in the back and again in the head after falling to his knees. Anaheim police Chief John Welter shot down this accusation in a recent press conference by saying, “ I feel for the people in that neighborhood and the reason I do is because they’re, I believe, being given rumors rather than facts, and they are being led to believe that the police would actually execute someone. If that’s the case and if the investigation reveals that’s the case, I’ll be the first to ask the district attorney to prosecute the officer.” The police Chief also expressed his hope to end the turmoil by increasing trust between the police and local residents of Anaheim.