Residents of Anaheim's Anna Drive neighborhood, where a fatal police shooting helped spark weeks of protest, got their chance Tuesday night to question City Council candidates on police brutality and other issues affecting their community.
The forum, which was organized by the Latino group Los Amigos of Orange County and held on the street just a few yards from where the shooting occurred in July, drew six candidates vying for two open seats.
The candidates included schools trustee Jordan Brandman, former Councilwoman Lucille Kring, former labor leader John Leos, businessmen Brian Chuchua and Rodolfo “Rudy” Gaona, and activist and blogger Duane Roberts.
Moderator Norberto Santana Jr., Voice of OC's editor-in-chief, opened the forum by questioning whether the candidates believe there is police brutality in the city, a common perception among residents of this neighborhood. On July 21, police shot and killed Anna Drive resident, Manuel Diaz, an unarmed 25-year-old.
The killing, which at the time was the year's fifth officer-involved shooting in Anaheim, caused long-simmering anger toward police to erupt into protests that at one point turned into a riot outside City Hall after protesters were denied entrance to a City Council meeting.
With the exception of Brandman, all the candidates unequivocally said that police brutality is a significant problem in the city. Brandman said that he “has not first-hand witnessed brutality” but that he has “reason to believe that these situations exist” and that incidents of police brutality have happened in the past.
Kring said that the police department needs to reform. “We need to change the culture of the police absolutely, and I will work to make that happen,” she said.
Chuchua said that his son was a victim of police brutality, so he knows it exists. According to Chuchua, a police officer told his son to start running so the officer would have cause to shoot him.
Candidates also weighed in on a proposal to form a civilian police oversight commission.
Once again with the exception of Brandman, all the candidates said they supported civilian oversight of police officers. Brandman said before the council can tackle the issue of civilian police review, the city must first implement a system in which council members are elected on a district-by-district basis. All council members now are elected at-large.
Roberts said that the review commission should have subpoena powers and allow meetings to be open to the public, a proposal that would likely face a court challenge from police officers. A commission appointed by council members would be a “hack” body with no credibility, according to Roberts.
“I want the community to control the police,” Roberts said. “I want it to be as democratic as possible.”
Leos also said that a review commission would need subpoena power but added that the rights of police officers shouldn’t be violated. The police officers bill of rights and court decisions have driven even civilian police investigations behind closed doors.
Residents also questioned the candidates on whether the influence of the Disneyland resort needs to be curbed.
“Anaheim is a company town. It’s a company owned and operated by Disney,” Roberts said. Community organizing would counter Disney’s influence, he said.
Leos, who is backed by labor unions, made it clear that while he understands the importance of Disney to Anaheim, he won't be beholden to the corporation.
“I can assure you that the [political actions committees] endorsing some City Council candidates aren’t supporting me,” Leos said. “They are a vital source of income in the city of Anaheim, and I cannot forget that.”
Gaona said that “lobbyists run Anaheim” and that since he has no endorsements, he’s clearly a candidate who if elected would represent the residents.
Brandman said that one person’s lobbyist is another’s “key supporter.”
“There are several stakeholders in the city, of which Disney is just one,” Brandman said.
A resident asked whether the candidates would support a $1 gate fee on Angels games and Disneyland tickets that would go toward youth programs and neighborhood development. Only Kring and Brandman said they would not, with Kring offering instead to take 1 percent of hotel room tax revenue and dedicate it to neighborhood improvements.
Coyotl Tezcatlipoca, a Costa Mesa resident and Mexican immigrant, asked whether Kring still supported having U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents at local jails and referred to an ICE “substation” in the city.
Kring said she supports having ICE agents in jails to check the immigration status of “undocumented aliens,” a term that offended Tezcatlipoca. “Alien? You’re an alien. Don’t call my people aliens,” he shouted back.
With the exception of Kring, only Brandman stated support for having ICE agents at jails. “I have no issue complying with the federal government,” he said. “I think it’s fine.”
Steve Chavez Lodge, a retired Santa Ana police officer and considered a top-tier candidate, did not attend. Neither did candidates Linda Linder, a retired deputy sheriff, and Jennifer Rivera, a law student.