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Racial Tensions and Questionable Killings by Police in Anaheim: 9 Things You Should Know

It’s best-known as "happiest place on Earth.” But just four miles away from Disneyland, a cloud of tear gas and public outrage has swept over Anaheim.
 
 
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The city of Anaheim, California  may be best-known as home to the "happiest place on Earth.”  But on Tuesday, just four miles away from Disneyland, a cloud of tear gas swept over Anaheim. Angry residents smashed business windows, hurled rocks, and started trash-can fires as the police shot bean bag bullets, pepper balls, and tear gas at them.

The majority-Latino town appears to have imploded, as residents demand answers for a police killing they say is proof of racial biases.

Saturday afternoon was the last time twenty-five-year-old Manuel Diaz saw daylight. Residents say Diaz was unarmed and running when police shot him from behind. That afternoon, angry neighbors gathered near the incident in protest. Video shows Anaheim police firing bean bags and pepper spray into a crowd full of families. By Sunday, about 50 demonstrators marched to the Anaheim Police Department's headquarters, but the Anaheim PD had already killed again. This time, the dead was “documented gang member” Joel Acevedo, who allegedly fired at police pursuing his stolen vehicle. Demonstrations continued into Tuesday, when tensions erupted in a near- warzone just miles away from Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck.

The people of Anaheim are demanding justice. What will happen next is uncertain, and anger rages on. Here are nine things you need to know about Anaheim’s past four days, and the building tension erupting in Southern California. 

1)The Shot That Started It All

Residents first were in a uproar about the nature of Diaz’s killing, which appears to be an overt abuse of force. According to witness accounts,  police first shot Diaz in the leg, bringing him down to his knees, before firing again at his head.  Mayor Tom Tait called reports that Diaz was shot in the head and leg "unsettling." On Tuesday, Diaz's family filed a civil rights lawsuit for $50 million in damages from the city of Anaheim and the Anaheim police department. They say Diaz was not threatening, but was shot while running away.

In some reports, police claim they approached Diaz for “suspicious behavior --  hurling something they “believe” to have been heroin onto nearby roofs. Still, drug allegations have not been substantiated, with no recovery of the alleged heroin.

2. Child Victims of Police Brutality

Children were present at Saturday’s demonstration when police unleashed attack dogs and rubber bullets into the crowd. According to this heartbreaking video, some of Anaheim’s youth were not spared the police department’s force. Police dogs knocked over a stroller and a bit a young boy. One little girl said, “They’re saying they let the dog go out by accident but it was on purpose.”

A child as young as five -- shot in the eye with a police projectile -- is among the youngest reportedly struck. Amber Stephens at Orange County Weekly reports interviewing five children of the more than one dozen residents struck by beanbag rounds. “One minor said she was hit by a teargas bullet in her mouth,” Stephens wrote.  

Anaheim Police Sargeant Bob Dunn told OC Weekly, "If children were hit, they have not made their presence known to us,” but footage of the rally makes it clear that children were everywhere -- their presence was obvious.  

3. Why the Weapons?

The reason for police force on Saturday is unclear. Police have told the media they used weapons on the crowd in response to “gang-members” throwing bottles. Footage of the alleged instigation is not available; still, a bystander told OC Weekly “a few water bottles were tossed in the street" as demonstrators demanded answers from police, who "just started shooting everyone."  

4. 600 Demonstrators vs 250 Riot Police

Tensions escalated Tuesday at City Hall after demonstrators urging the City Council to investigate Diaz’s death were not allowed to enter. Police issued a dispersal order to hundreds of demonstrators at around 9pm. According to the Guardian,“within minutes,” demonstrators were fleeing after police shot pepper balls at their feet. The 250 riot police called to the scene also released bean bag balls and tear gas on the 600 demonstrators. Twenty-four were arrested in the chaos, which some say included some struggles between angry rioters and demonstrators committed to peace. 

The number of injuries stemming from Tuesday’s action is unclear, but if you don’t think bean bag bullets hurt, take a look at these photos.

5. Journalists Struck by Police Projectiles

Two Orange County Register reporters  were injured  on Tuesday-- one by a rock, another by a police projectile. The extent of their injuries is unclear, but at least five other journalists were shot while covering the action, including independent livestreamer Tim Pool,  the emmy-award winning investigator Amber Lyon, and threeKFI News staffers.  Videoof Pool and Lyon being shot at is disturbing: They don’t seem to be amid a violent crowd in which they were caught in the crossfire,  but are standing peacefully on the sidewalk. Pool says his press badge was clearly displayed the second time police fired projectiles at him.

6. The Race Problem

Locals say the Anaheim police’s killing of Diaz and violence against protesters represents Anaheim PD’s disrespect for the Latino community. The zipcode where Diaz was shot -- and where demonstrators communed Saturday -- is90% Latino.  Still, the riots may be more than a response to the police department’s harsh racial profiling. Anaheim’s victims may have no outlet to air their grievances and work for change.  Even though Anaheim is more than 50% Latino, none of its city council members are. The representational disparity is so lopsided the ACLU and local activists recentlyfiled a lawsuit claiming it violates the 2001 Voting Rights Act, and demanding a new system whereby residents vote for their district’s representative only.

7. Death Represents Sixth Person Shot by Police

This weekend’s killings make for six  shootings -- five of which have been fatal -- at the hands of Orange County police so far this year. In all of last year, the total was four.  

8. Escalating Tensions

Protests against killings by police have been ongoing over the past couple of years. Every week, the mother of 35-year-old Caesar Cruz, shot by Anaheim police in 2009, joins her supporters at the police headquarters to demand answers. Ongoing demonstrations led officials last month to look into hiring a private investigator to probe  “major police incidents.” Local activists are calling for a citizen review commission to oversee the police department,  a federal investigation, and new training for police.

Fatal police force may be a growing problem not just in Anaheim, but Southern California. The Los Angeles Times reports that killings by cops in LA County increased 70% last year compared to 2010, even though homicide dipped to a historic low. And let’s not forget nearby Fullerton, where police brutally beat and killed a mentally ill man.  

9.  Investigations and Punishment

The Orange County District Attorney's Office is investigating the shooting death of Manuel Diaz -- and whether to file criminal charges --  independently of the police. City officials voted unanimously Tuesday to ask the U.S. attorney's office to investigate recent police shootings. The Federal Bureau of Investigation has agreed to review the evidence. Two police officers  involved in the fatal shooting of Diaz have been placed on paid leave.  

Kristen Gwynne is an associate editor and drug policy reporter at AlterNet.  Follow her on Twitter: @KristenGwynne