Hundreds of families, community members, activists, and supporters are scheduled to unite today in a statewide day of action against police brutality taking place in the city of Anaheim, California. This comes one year after the back-to-back fatal police shootings of Manuel Angel Diaz and Joel Acevedo, which caused an uprising in the city of Anaheim last year by angry residents and victims’ families who had enough with the long-time history of violence by police in their communities.
One year ago today, 25-year-old Manuel Angel Diaz was shot and killed by police officer, Nick Bennallack in the Anna Dr. neighborhood of Anaheim. The Anna Dr. community was outraged by the killing of Diaz as witnesses detailed that “Manny” was shot in the head “execution style” after falling to the ground, following a short pursuit by police. Cell phone footage caught just moments following the shooting displayed officers more concerned about removing angry residents from the scene, than getting immediate medical attention for Diaz, who was still alive at the time of the recording.
Hours later, protesting Anna Dr. residents were met by Anaheim officers who indiscriminately fired rubber bullets into the neighborhood. Footage reached some media outlets where women and children were seen trying to reach cover from police bullets while a police canine “accidentally escaped” its owner and attacked a man and a woman who were protecting their months-old baby.
Tensions would only intensify in Anaheim after 21-year-old Joel Acevedo was also shot and killed by Anaheim police just one day after Diaz’s killing. This was the fifth death by Anaheim police fire that year, which included the slayings of Bernie Villegas (36), Roscoe Cambridge (29), and Martin Angel Hernandez (21).
The killing of Villegas, Cambridge, and Hernandez had already built up pressure against Anaheim police earlier in the year, especially in the Wakefield community where residents had organized marches for the killing of Hernandez. Two days after Acevedo’s killing, a multitude of residents, victims’ families, and supporters attended the Anaheim city council meeting to protests the police’s excessive use of force in each of the cases. Yet, people were refused entry as they arrived at City Hall, and officers barricaded the council chambers while suiting up in riot gear, pacing around while holding rubber bullet guns. Obvious of the denied entry into the public meeting, people picketed outside City Hall, taking up part of Anaheim Blvd. Instantly, columns of officers in riot gear, with the help of police agencies form neighboring cities, circled the demonstrators and began shooting “less-than-lethal” weapons at some individuals.
The events that followed would be marked and remembered by many as the “Anaheim Uprising.” Fed up with living in fear of police through violence and intimidation, the mass of people who were denied entry to the July 24th council meeting led police on a four-hour-long march through the streets of Anaheim.
Here, youth from different Anaheim neighborhoods, entire families, victims’ families, and supporters from neighboring cities came together and marched in unison to have their message heard through the city; “Jail killer cops.” The march went on through the evening and would eventually be shut down with showers of pepper balls, bean bags, and rubber bullets from police.
The day following the action, media outlets were flooded with 15-second sound-bites of broken windows and “trash can fires” and the event was labeled as a massive “riot”. Police blamed were quick to blame “outside agitators.”
One week later, a day of solidarity with Anaheim was called where hundreds of supporters from Santa Ana, Los Angeles, San Diego, and as far as Oakland demonstrated outside the Anaheim police station with the message, “We are all Anaheim.”
The demonstration-turned-march would also be faced with force when the group was almost trampled by horse-mounted officers as they advanced south on Harbor Blvd. Once reaching the Ball Rd intersection, it was clear what Anaheim police were safeguarding; their “magic kingdom.” Dozens of officers in military-style uniforms blocked off the intersection just down the street from “The Happiest Place on Earth,” place where a peaceful demonstration had already taken place the day before.
The police response that day made headlines in some media outlets that described Anaheim as “a warzone.” Former Anaheim police chief, John Welter, would come under fire later that year after making statements on international media claiming that he was unaware of the “inappropriate” use of force by police and that he found out about it when he opened up his “newspaper the next day.”
Soon after the major events, Anaheim lost some attention in most media outlets, making only brief references the summer’s “riots”. Yet, the mothers, families, and communities of those who lost their loved ones to police bullets continued to build momentum in the neighborhoods of Anaheim. The largely women-led movement of victims’ families grew in numbers after switching their weekly demonstrations held at the Anaheim police station, to a rotation of victims’ memorial sites.
Every week, this coalition of families held marches in memory of their loved ones, spreading their message of solidarity and unity against the police injustices. These marches would meet strong support by the youth in the predominantly poor neighborhoods, which have been constant targets by police.
Most youth risked further harassment by police since harsh gang injunctions left little “liberty” for “expression”, as any move could be seen, labeled, or profiled as “gang related.” Many youth recalled being intimidated and some arrested after visiting the funerals of the young men killed by police. Not only have they had to endure constant harassment by police, but they’ve also had to face the same officers that killed some of their friends, since they were allowed back on duty in the same areas where they shot their victims.
Officer Kelly Phillips, who killed Joel Acevedo, and Officer Dan Hurtado, who killed Martin Angel Hernandez, have become “known” figures in the Guinida Ln and Wakefield communities respectively. Residents have stated that Hurtado has boasted the killing of Hernandez, where Phillips has been involved in exaggerated “encounters” with Acevedo’s family, even being present during the desecration of “Joey’s” memorial by police.
This would only add fire to the Anaheim movement against police brutality as it continued to grow when families began to connect with other families outside of Orange County in cities such as Downey, Compton, Reseda, Pomona, and Lakewood.
Northern and southern California would then meet during a historic anti-police conference in Oxnard where families were able to connect in person. Many of the families who attended only knew each other via social networking mediums or through phone conversations, but the conference offered them a space to meet in person and share feelings that were not electronically transmittable.
After connecting with each other, the list of victims’ families working together in solidarity has grown to include the names of: Cesar Cruz, Martin Angel Hernandez, Manuel Angel Diaz, Joel Acevedo, Roscoe Cambridge, Joe Whitehouse, Marcel Luis Ceja, David Raya, Justin Hertl, Julian Alexander, Michael Lee Nida II, Steven Bours, Jose de La Trinidad, Tony Francis, Javier Arrazola, Rigoberto Arceo, Alfonso Limon Jr., Ernest Duenez, Robert Ramirez, Mario Romero, Oscar Grant, and Doug Zerby, to name a few.
The well-organized group of families has now made themselves available to other families who have lost, and are continuing to lose loved ones at the hands of police. This was especially apparent during the bloody month of May this year when at least 9 people were killed by police throughout Southern California. They’ve lent their support on the streets through demonstrations, vigils, and marches and have voiced their demands at city council meetings throughout the state.
Since the police killings in Anaheim last year, all officers have been cleared from any criminal culpability by Orange County district attorney Tony Rackauckas. The officers are back on the streets with the protection to defend themselves with lethal force from any “suspicious” yet unarmed individuals, who may be “reaching for their waist bands.” The media has extended this protection by criminalizing the “suspects” after they’ve been gunned down and presenting the police agencies’ description of the events as fact.
Today’s demonstration, which will once again join northern and southern California with caravans from as far north as Sacramento and as far south as San Diego expected to arrive, means to serve on different fronts: a message to the public to exercise their right to speak their voices, a message to the city to charge officers for the “murder” of their loved ones, and to express the need for change or replacement of the system currently in place.
It is expected, just as was the case last year, that most conservative, corporate media outlets will focus on any “disturbances” as a means to justify today’s actions as a mere “riot”, while others will present it as a “reactionary” disruption due to the recent acquittal of George Zimmerman for the killing of Treyvon Martin in Florida. Whatever the outcome, there is no doubt that the growing unit of victims’ families in California has endured and resisted abuse, intimidation, and violence by police agencies and today, north and south will unite once again to keep loyal to the mantra, “No Justice, No Peace.”