Electoral Politics As Means of Control and Appeasement
Like the saying goes: “It’s good fishing in troubled waters”, it was predictable that the spontaneous uprising sparked by the murders of Manuel Diaz and Joel Acevedo by Anaheim Police Department officers this past summer, was going to be exploited like some sort of shock doctrine by some local “leaders” to advance their own agendas. In fact, they are already taking advantage of the unrest and are out to co-opt and divert the anger and energy of these incipient grass roots efforts into electoral politics, anticipating the turmoil in the city will turn people into good “customers” for the coming elections and voter registration campaigns.
The killings are being forcibly integrated into the narrative being put forth by some politicians, community “leaders” and non-profit organizations to push for a new voting system in Anaheim. According to them, what’s happening in working-class “Latino” neighborhoods is due to the lack of political power and representation in local government and more “Latinos” need to be voted into office.
People like Jose Moreno, Anaheim City School District trustee and president of Los Amigos of Orange County, a prominent organization, Joanne Sosa, from the Take Back Anaheim initiative, and Eric Altman, from OCCORD, a non-profit organization, among others, have been quoted in local papers stating that “the shootings and protests are symptomatic of Anaheim failing to reflect its demographic changes” and that “we need to feel like part of the political system” by switching to a district-by-district and abandon the at-large voting system the city currently employs.
A lawsuit in fact, has been filed against the city by Jose Moreno, Amin David, and Consuelo Garcia, under the California Voting Rights Act, which, according to the ACLU’s website, “seeks an injunction to prevent the at-large elections from being imposed or applied after the November 2012 election.” It also asks for “the creation of districts and district elections, or some method that gives Latinos a real opportunity to elect candidates of their choice.”
The outcome of the lawsuit is yet to be known but we already found out that the majority of the city “leadership” doesn’t like the idea of changing the electoral method. Last month it was voted down by three out of five councilmembers. A citizen advisory committee on elections and community involvement was established as a consolation prize. How it will work is anyone’s guess, but even if the district-by-district scheme were to be implemented, there’s no guarantee of “fairer” representation since gerrymandering is common under this system.
It’s obvious that there’s no political representation for the Mexican, Central American and other communities of color in the Anaheim city council, but the truth is “Latino” representation in local, or national government for that matter, doesn’t necessarily translate into justice. If “fair” representation were the panacea for police brutality and other issues, Santa Ana with a Mexican mayor for almost 20 years and an all “Latino” city council, would be the mecca of justice in Orange County, yet, police abuse in the form of harassment, beatings, killings, and vehicle impoundments are still common in the migrant and working-class neighborhoods of the city.
Representation, in the most empirical sense, is not assurance that our communities will be benefited, as a matter of fact, one of the programs that has hurt our communities the most, was made possible thanks to one of “our” highest ranking representatives in Washington D.C.;
On June of 1996, the INS (Immigration and Naturalization Services), announced the end of a pilot program at the Anaheim jail which screened detainees and deported those who couldn’t produce proof of U.S. citizenship. The number of undocumented inmates was too low to justify the presence of two part-time immigration agents in the jail; besides, most of them were being arrested for minor offenses. City officials opposed the decision, then councilmember Tom Tait was quoted by the LA Times saying that, "What the federal government might consider to be minor offenses aren't necessarily minor offenses in our community." A newly elected congresswoman, Loretta Sanchez, a politician of Mexican descent whose district includes Anaheim, stepped in to convince the INS to extend the time and scope of the program. It was kept alive and years later, Costa Mesa’s Minutemen Mayor, Alan Mansoor, was able to partially implement part of the official 287(g) program in his own city and, just like in Anaheim, hundreds of workers without prior criminal records have been deported.
Another of “our” Mexican representatives, Assemblyman Jose Solorio (D-Anaheim), instead of demanding police accountability, has praised the APD for their “great job”. In a Facebook page, created after some of the largest anti-police demonstrations, called “Keep Fighting Anaheim Gangs”, his office affirms that:
“State Assemblyman Jose Solorio created this FB page to show his support for Anaheim's anti-gang efforts & ask others in Anaheim to join the effort. As a longtime crusader against gangs in Santa Ana & California, Assemblyman Solorio knows the terror gangs can inflict on families in low income neighborhoods.”
Solorio also supports gang injunctions even though they have been proven to violate rights listed on the Constitution politicians are sworn to support and defend.
Ironically, one of the only three candidates with a “Latino” surname for this year’s Anaheim council elections, Steve Chavez Lodge, formerly known as Steve Lodge, has a history of police brutality from his days as an officer at the Santa Ana Police Department. He also describes himself as a Reaganite conservative, and believes that the most important function of city government is public safety. Coming from an abusive ex-police officer, it’s clear he means more police, gang injunctions and other punitive measures as primary means of contact and interaction with our communities.
While some out of goodwill and others out of blatant ignorance and opportunism, want to correct errors in the system by reducing the tensions that are deep-seated in our history and our collective memory into some simplistic modern political flaw and treat cases of police brutality as a an “accidental” malfunction of the establishment, us who don’t conceive solutions through the prism of conventional politics have the certainty that, neither established formal “democratic” processes, nor more people of color in positions of power nor a million non-profits, whose tendency to equate public benefits and charity with so-called social justice is absurd, will ever do anything but to amuse and give us “hope” by “empowering” us only through means authorized by the state.
The myth that we need to trust the system and it will work for us once we integrate and assimilate and work with and within it, doesn’t convince everyone. Progressives, Democrats, Republicans or whatever they choose to label themselves, will probably try to alleviate resentments and work to some extent with our communities of color, but one thing is for sure; the next time another “accidental” failure of the system leads people to take over the streets, they’ll be hiding inside their “democratic” institutions paying another $1.7 million of public funds, to the police to protect them and an abstract idea of city (usually property belonging to the rich), and the true violent nature of the system will articulate itself once again through the use of excessive force (e.g. rubber bullets shot at protesters, k9s deployed at women and children, militarized police, etc.), and the vicious circle will start all over again.
- American Civil Liberties Union. No date. Web. 25 Sep. 2012. (http://www.aclu-sc.org/cases/moreno/complaint/).
- Cano, Debra. “Study of INS Program at Pail put on Hold.” LA Times, [ Los Angeles, CA] 17 May, 1997. 26 Sep. 2012.
- Cano, Debra. “INS to Continue Checking Inmates During Review of Program.” LA Times, [ Los Angeles, CA] 28 June, 1997. 26 Sep. 2012. (http://articles.latimes.com/1997-06-28/local/me-7756_1_pilot-program).
- “Keep Fighting Anaheim Gangs.” 8 Aug. 2012. 27 Sep. 2012. (https://www.facebook.com/KeepFightingAnaheimGangs)
- Ward, Cynthia. “Pants. On. Fire. Calling Out Steven Albert Chavez Lodge at GOP meeting.” Think for yourself. Web blog. 13 Sep. 2012. 27 Sep. 2012. (http://thinkforyourselfoc.com/?p=73).