End-to-end consecutive weekend shootings have ignited four days of violent protests. Council members sitting inside the City Hall voted all-the-way, to the man, to ask the U.S. attorney’s office to investigate the recent shootings by officers. Among the victims was an unarmed defenseless man.
A number of demonstrators could not be accommodated owing to lack of space and had to be shut out of the council meeting. Frustrated and feeling ignored they grew violent and threw rocks and bottles at the police, refusing to disperse when they were asked to.
Police Officers formed queues to bring a semblance of order in the unruly compound, even as the locals set fire to garbage cans, vociferously abused the police and swarmed a Starbucks, smashing windows.
Police helicopters patrolled from the skies even as colorful fireworks from nearby Disneyland, oblivious to the dismal activities going on below, shared space with the helicopters, lighting up the sky.
Sgt. Bob Dunn said that at least two persons were arrested and when the police witnessed protestors filling canisters with gas, a gas station was shut down to preempt the situation from getting out of control.
The recent police shootings have left the local populace enraged and in direct confrontation with the police. The shooting of Manuel Diaz and another person on Sunday, takes the tally of persons shot by the police to six this year. Five of those who have been shot have died. Last year four people lost their lives to police bullets.
Manuel Diaz’s family on Tuesday filed a civil rights lawsuit seeking $50 million in damages from the city of Anaheim and its police department, alleging that the police shot him even when he posed no danger. Their lawyer James Rumm claims that he was shot whilst he was running away.
Mayor Tom Tait, said that it was “unsettling” to read from court papers that Diaz had been “shot in the leg and in the back of his head.”
Theresa Smith who can understand the pain of the Diaz family better than anyone else (her own son was killed in December 2009, by Anaheim officers at a Wal-Mart store) said she visited the scene of Saturday’s shooting and was stunned by what she saw.
“There were pieces of brain on the … darn grass, in front of all these children, in front of all these people,” Smith said. “This traumatizes people, and these people are angry.”
The police union have stood by their officers, who were involved in the shootings, and have issued a statement saying that both the men who were shot dead where members of gangs and had criminal records.
The union further said that just prior to Diaz turning towards the officers during Saturday’s conflict; he pulled something from his waistband, a place where gang members are inclined to conceal their weapons. Police officers have to make split seconds decisions that can make the difference between life and death.
Kerry Condon, the police association’s president was confident that investigations would exonerate his men and prove them guiltless. “I believe that the independent investigations by the Orange County district attorney’s office into both incidents will show no wrongdoing by these officers,” he said.
Anaheim is a city of dissimilarities and class distinctions. It is home to the internationally celebrated Disneyland, the Angels baseball team and residents live in fashionable, swank hilltop homes to crammed, gritty apartment complexes.
Anaheim has a Hispanic population of nearly 53 percent. The city’s previously most populous ethnic group, non-Hispanic white, has declined from 89.2% in 1970 to 27.5% in 2010, according to the Census report two years ago.
This is not the first time the residents have expressed fears about the excessive and insensitive use of police force in the city. As close as last month, the city deliberated upon hiring the services of an independent investigator to investigate shootings by police officers following protests by the kith and kin of those who died in the police shootings.
However, Latino activists are saying that they’ve had enough and guarded investigations are not sufficient to quell their worries and ire and want the Saturday’s shooting investigated in an atmosphere of transparency and openness.
Benny Diaz, state director of the League of United Latin American Citizens in California said that a citizen review commission should monitor the activities of the police department and the officers made to undergo sensitivity training and that the investigations should be done by the federal agencies and not by local or state agencies.
Diaz said that locals requests in the past for an investigation into police officer shootings have not been heeded to, “People are saying, ‘You know what? We have to stop this. As an organization, we are trying to find peace but there comes a point where you have to stand up strong.”
Tait, who has called for state and federal agencies to investigate the shooting, has asked his community not to lose their heads but to maintain their composure. “If the Latino community is saying there is a rift, then there is rift, and we need to address that,” he said.
On Saturday, the police were making the area safe for the investigators and had to bear the brunt of the locals’ fury who subjected them to a barrage of rocks and bottles. The police barely managed to disperse them by firing bean bags and pepper balls at the enraged crowd.
On Sunday, protestors filled into police headquarters when a morning news conference was going on. On their way out they set fire to a trash bin and pushed it into the street opposite the apartment complex that was the location of one of the shootings.
On Monday night, Diaz’s mother participated in a march, with other marchers, including relatives of others killed in police shootings.
Police Chief John Welter said the shooting happened when the two officers accosted three men behaving suspiciously in an alley. They did not pay heed to normal police warnings and procedures and instead chose to flee. An officer chased one of the men to the front of the apartment complex, where he was shot. The man was later identified as Diaz.
Welter could not confirm what provoked the officer into shooting Diaz, but said that he had disobeyed police orders and flung something on the roof of the complex that contained what officers believe to be heroin.
Both officers were subsequently placed on paid leave pending an investigation.
The second shooting occurred Sunday when patrolling anti-gang officers came across suspects in a stolen sports utility vehicle. They too fled and the police gave chase. The chase lasted for a short while and sensing an opportunity the three suspects jumped from the vehicle and ran. One suspect took out a gun and fired at an officer and the officer fired back, killing the gunman, who was later identified as 21-year-old Joel Mathew Acevedo, authorities said.
The county’s district attorney office is investigating both the incidents and has asked eye witnesses to provide as much information as possible. Agency spokeswoman Laura Eimiller said that the FBI is conducting a review to determine whether a civil rights investigation is warranted, said agency spokeswoman Laura Eimiller.