A conservative blogger funded by the Anaheim Chamber of Commerce posted a photo ridiculing the mourning rituals for young Latino men shot and killed by police, triggering outrage from mothers whose sons were killed by officers.
The photo, published by Matt Cunningham on his "Anaheim Blog" last week, shows a defaced teddy bear lying next to a Virgin de Guadalupe candle, a scene that clearly mimics widely publicized images of memorial sites that Latino families place on sidewalks to honor the young men:
Cunningham posted it on Dec. 12, the day after Theresa Smith -- whose 35-year-old son, Caeser Cruz, was killed by police in 2009 -- held a candlelight vigil for her son outside the Anaheim Police Department.
(Click here to read the entire blog post)
The grieving mother said Cunningham’s message is clear: Poor Latinos aren’t human beings; the deaths of their children and their religious traditions are merely jokes.
“You’re making fun of me losing a child, having to bury him,” Smith said. “I’m outraged. I’m absolutely outraged.”
Cunningham did not return Voice of OC's message seeking comment. But after the reporter's call, he took down the post, replacing it with the following message:
In his post, Cunningham wrote that he happened upon the bear in front of Anaheim City Hall. He then began taking pictures of it in different positions:
Cunningham says he then decided to place candles next to the bear as an "added touch."
Beyond mocking the mourning rituals of Latinos, the post also made fun of activists' efforts to establish what they claim would be a more representative voting system:
Dr. Jose F. Moreno called for a series of community meetings to discuss the impact of this violence on an inclusive roster of stakeholders and for the formation of a city task force to explore ways to increase teddy bear participation in Anaheim municipal government, suggesting this tragedy could have been prevented if the city council were elected from single-member districts.
The ACLU has filed suit on behalf of the activists, claiming the existing election system violates the California Voting Rights Act. For months the city had fought the suit but is now in settlement talks with ACLU lawyers.
Smith's son was one of several young Latino men who have been killed in Anaheim police shootings in recent years. Anger in the Latino community over the deaths reached a boiling point in summer 2012, when back-to-back killings sparked a downtown riot of mostly Latino youth.
In his state-of-the-city address following the riot, Mayor Tom Tait cited a perception that there are two Anaheims — one that includes wealthy neighborhoods like Anaheim Hills and the resort area, another that is riddled with the social and economic challenges of Latino neighborhoods contending with poverty, gang violence and distrust of police officers.
Smith and other critics of the blog post said that it represents a strain of racial insensitivity among the city’s political establishment, including the current City Council majority.
Anaheim council members and chamber of commerce President Todd Ament did not return phone calls seeking comment.
The chamber has paid Cunningham between $10,000 and $100,000 in a recent one-year period, according to a financial disclosure he filed with the county.
Another mother said the post represents a wider sentiment in the city's establishment that is hostile toward Latinos.
“When I found out about it, I was at the gas station. I just went into the bathroom and starting crying,” said Donna Acevedo, whose son Joel Acevedo, a documented gang member, was killed by police officers while fleeing from them last year.
“I feel like it’s not just Matt. … He’s representing how they all feel about this. Like we’re just some kind of a joke.”