(The Happiest Place On Earth: Racist Police Violence in Anaheim) Southern California in July can be suffocatingly hot, the kind of intense heat that drives you indoors for much of the day and leaves tempers simmering at a low boil, waiting for a reason to bubble over. Frustrations are high in communities across the southern half of the state thanks to the relentless heat and ongoing economic woes; Orange County, for example, has an unemployment rate of almost 8% and a foreclosure rate hovering around 2%. The traditionally conservative county has some of the most dramatic economic inequality imaginable on display, from the mansions of the wealthy to the crowded tenements of the poor who serve them.
The largest city in the county is Anaheim, home of ‘the happiest place on Earth.’ It may be known for its sports teams and the sprawling Disneyland complex with associated resorts, but it’s more than that. It’s also a large and diverse community with shifting demographics, including a large Latino community locked into the service industry and frustrated by their lack of political and social power in white-dominated local politics. The ACLU has even been involved, with a suit challenging the city’s habit of shutting out Latino voters.
It was 4pm on Saturday, 21 July when two police officers saw three men in a car and decided they looked suspicious. The police department would like the public to believe this was because they were gang members with ‘a criminal history,’ as though this justifies any of the ensuing events, but the colour of their skin suggests otherwise; perhaps they were suspicious merely because they were Latino, and not for any other compelling reason.
When the officers approached the car, the three men fled, and with good reason; Anaheim had already experienced several fatal officer-involved shootings in 2012, many of them involving Latino men. One of the officers opened fire on Manuel Angel Diaz, an unarmed 25 year old man. He was shot in the head and back and left to die on the corner of La Palma Avenue and North Anna Drive over protests from witnesses, who screamed for help as the police surrounded the site in yellow tape.
Protesters gathered to vent their anger over yet another senseless shooting in their community, while trying to understand what, exactly, had happened. As the crowd grew, it included many families protesting together, including young children. The police response included an impressive display of excessive force: They opened fire on the crowd with pepper spray and beanbags, and released a police dog into the already explosive mix. The dog was released ‘by accident,’ the police say, but witnesses have testified otherwise. (Read more)