A Neighborhood Is Pushed to the Brink

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A Latino neighborhood in central Anaheim continues to simmer with a mix of anger and fear after police shootings on consecutive days claimed two lives and officers fired beanbags and unleashed a dog into a crowd that included young children.

Community leaders Monday were attempting to rally those still milling around Anna Drive, where one of the shootings occurred, to attend in force Tuesday night’s Anaheim City Council meeting and voice their frustration to city leaders.

“This is the opportunity for the Anna Street people to rise up,” Yesenia Rojas, a neighborhood resident, told a group of young men.

It was clear, however, that some were reluctant to take their anger to City Hall because they feared retaliation from police officers. “I don’t want to end up like my homie,” said one of the men.

He was referring to the shooting death July 21 of 25-year-old Manuel Diaz, who was apparently unarmed and fleeing on foot from officers. Diaz, who was known in the neighborhood as “Stomper,” was chased into a neighborhood alley and shot in the buttocks and then the head, an unidentified girl who witnessed the killing from 20 ft. away told The Orange County Register.

Police officers shot another man to death on Sunday as the man, allegedly a gang member, fired at them, according to news reports.

The two incidents have pushed a community that was already up in arms over a spate of police shootings — six so far in 2012 — to the brink.

Residents, including some with children, began gathering at the site of the Diaz shooting shortly after it happened. As the crowd grew larger and moved in on the shooting scene, officers fired bean bags pepper spray and unleashed a police dog, a CBS News video shows.

According to the Register, some residents were throwing rocks and bottles at police, prompting the police reaction. Residents, however,  say police officers started the melee by firing into the crowd.

Anaheim Police Chief John Welter defended the officers’ handling of the crowd in comments made to the Register.

“Officers in this situation can’t retreat,” Welter told the Register. “If we would have abandoned the scene, we would not be doing our job.”

Welter apologized, however, for the release of the police dog, saying it was an accident.

Residents continued to express their rage the night of June 21 with some lighting trash bins ablaze and pushing them into the street.

And on Monday night, about 100 neighborhood residents marched in the neighborhood’s streets with Diaz’s family, demanding justice for the slain man. Many families looked on from their porches and balconies as the crowd moved by.

The crowd shouted, “We want respect. We deserve respect,” and “Do we want these cops in the street? No!”

Police officers were not present as the protesters marched down La Palma Avenue, the main street access to the neighborhood. A truck and a car skidded in circles in the street as protesters cheered.

Diaz’s mother, Genevive Huizar, marched at the front of the crowd with Diaz’s father, John Huizar, but broke down into sobs several times. “I will see my son. I will see my son in heaven,” she told the tearful residents at the end of a religious speech that capped the evening.

Latino leaders said Monday that a fragile peace between the city’s Latino community and the police department is in danger of shattering.

“Something is really happening that is dispelling the serenity we had in Anaheim,” said Amin David, one of Anaheim’s most prominent community activists and former leader of the grass-roots community group Los Amigos. “Because someone is running away … do you shoot?”

The renewed tensions come against the backdrop of an American Liberties Civil Union lawsuit that demands the city change from an at-large election system to election by council districts. Council members now may reside anywhere in the city, but four out of five live in Anaheim Hills, the city’s affluent eastern quarter.

Many Latino residents say that their community’s problems will receive more careful attention with council districts, which would require that council members live in various city neighborhoods. Only then would council members be faced with the residents’ day-to-day plight, they say.

The council Tuesday night will be considering placing council district elections on the November ballot for voter approval.

Meanwhile, Mayor Tom Tait has called for independent investigations into the “entire situation” from the state and federal attorney generals’ offices.

“The purpose of government is to protect the community, but at the same time, it is also to protect the rights of the individual,” Tait said at a Monday afternoon news conference. “We must do both, and we must do both well.”

“I’m asking the community to come together, to be resilient, and the way you do it is through complete transparency.”

Attorney general spokesman Shum Preston said the office was reviewing the mayor’s request. U.S. attorney’s officials could not be immediately reached for comment.

Please contact Adam Elmahrek directly at aelmahrek@voiceofoc.org and follow him on Twitter: twitter.com/adamelmahrek.

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