It is an expertise she’d give anything not to have, but Donna Acevedo-Nelson feels she has a deep sense of what needs to be done to actually improve police-resident relations in underserved communities and what is just window dressing.
“Without real police oversight nothing is going to change…community policing, that’s not going to work unless we have better officers,” said Acevedo-Nelson, whose son, Joel Acevedo, was killed by an Anaheim police officer in 2013.
“We were told they’re not social workers but you need common sense to know how to deescalate situations.”
Acevedo-Nelson is running for Anaheim’s newly created District 5 city council seat in the city’s first district-based election next month. The new electoral system was mandated by the settlement terms of a lawsuit by the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California (ACLU) claiming that Latino residents are underrepresented on council.
Like in so many other cities across the nation, police-resident relations is among the most controversial election-year issues in Anaheim and was one of the main topics Monday evening during a candidates' forum sponsored by the ACLU, Arab American Civic Council and a coalition of other groups.
The forum represented a chance for Acevedo-Nelson and others whose candidacies were spurred by district elections to talk about how personal experiences involving issues -- like officer-involved shootings, immigrant rights and homelessness -- drove their desire to hold public office.
The forum was moderated by Voice of OC Publisher Norberto Santana Jr. and included questions from a panel of community group representatives and from residents.
Several candidates suggested that hiring more police officers would be their number one priority. Steve Faessel, also a candidate for the District 5 seat, which represents residents east of State College Boulevard, said the police department needs to disperse new officers around all parts of the city.
“We also need…vigilant neighbors looking out for each other,” Faessel said.
Mark Richard Daniels, who is running for the District 1 seat representing West Anaheim, proposed the city combine its efforts into a citizens’ commission that would have greater oversight authority that current committees, including subpoena power.
The forum also delved into issues regarding treatment of Muslim Americans, another topic that is big in Anaheim and in the presidential election.
Rashad Al-Dabbgah of the Arab American Council asked candidates if they believe the city should join other municipalities in applying for federal funds through the Department of Homeland Security’s Countering Violent Extremism program, or CVE.
Anaheim has a large community of Muslim Americans and people of Middle Eastern descent, including a corridor of Arab-American businesses on Brookhurst Street known as Little Arabia.
“CVE is seen by many as discriminatory toward American Muslims…while potentially violating [their] civil rights,” Al-Dabbgah said.
Incumbent Councilman Jordan Brandman, who is running to represent District 3, District 4 candidate Robert Williams and Faessel were the only candidates who said they wouldn’t rule out the CVE funding. All three said they would consider it under certain circumstances and with restrictions to prevent any discrimination.
District 3 represents the north-central part of Anaheim, while District 4 is the south-central part which includes the entire Anaheim Resort district.
Mark Lopez, a deputy chief of staff for county Supervisor Shawn Nelson who is also vying for the District 5 seat, said he would not accept the CVE funding and that the city needs to rethink other sources of funding that can be used in a discriminatory manner, such as asset forfeiture funds.
Lupita Cisneros, an undocumented Fullerton College student, asked candidates if they would support making Anaheim a sanctuary city and “help and protect the undocumented community.”
Faessel said that he was “uncomfortable” with the idea of a sanctuary city but supports making education and other opportunities available to undocumented immigrants.
Several candidates said they would support a resolution declaring Anaheim a sanctuary city: District 4 candidate Arturo Ferreras, District 1 candidate Angel Van Stark, Williams, Daniels, Acevedo and Brandman.
District 3 candidate Jose F. Moreno and Lopez both cited personal experiences with being undocumented in their support for such a resolution.
Moreno was was undocumented until age 17, when a 1986 amnesty law passed under Republican President Ronald Reagan gave him a pathway to citizenship. Lopez spoke of sponsoring his undocumented father for citizenship.
“It was a very real, traumatic experience that a lot of us have,” Moreno said. “I support the idea, not just a resolution – we have council members who pass resolutions like crazy but we don’t have budget items [for them].”
Linda Lehnkering, a member of the Anaheim Poverty Task Force, asked candidates if they would repeal or continue enforcing anti-camping and loitering laws, and others that “criminalize” the homeless for actions necessary to their livelihood.
Van Stark, a 24-year-old candidate who lived in a domestic violence shelter as a child with his mother and was homeless again as a young adult, said he would repeal such laws. He lambasted those who believe that focusing on a county-run shelter, rather than support services and housing, would be effective.
“The shelter is going to kick out people that are rowdy or a threat to others, people with mental disabilities or challenges…drunks and drug addicts – so the most vulnerable people will not receive that attention and will stay out on the street,” said Van Stark
Brandman claimed it was the actions of he and others on the current city council that pushed the county move forward with the homeless shelter in Anaheim, and pushed the city of Santa Ana agreeing to support the use of an abandoned bus terminal in its downtown as a shelter and services center.
“After years of stonewalling, Anaheim finally kicked them in the pants and we’re building a homeless service center,” Brandman said. “Once those shelters are open [those ordinances] need to be looked at.”
Despite a rule that candidates focus on their own platform instead of attacking each other, Moreno directly attacked Brandman several times during the forum, to cheers from a crowd largely sympathetic to Moreno.
“Shame on you Mr. Brandman…we sit here and you’re trying to take credit for other people’s work,” said Moreno, prompting Brandman to grow visibly upset and voice his objections to Santana, the moderator.
“I will put my record as a school board member and candidate against any person that is competing with me,” Brandman replied.
There were just two questions where candidates unanimously agreed: Hosting a youth town hall to engage young people in the civic conversation, and creating an official district for Little Arabia.
Contact Thy Vo at email@example.com or follow her on Twitter @thyanhvo.