ANAHEIM, CA 29 July 2012--We were heading over to the neighborhood memorial service, passing the cops on horseback. Someone shouted out to the cop with the graying mustache, “Hey old guy, what are you going to tell the grandkids you did with your horse today? What are you going to tell your grandkids you do?” And then the analysis started: “You, grandpa, why you smiling? What's that smirk on your face? You're just really scared under all that, aren't you?” And turning to the cop on his left, “And you, you don't have a clue what's going on, do you? You're just sitting up there with that dumb look on your face.” And finally to the cop to the right of Grandpa, “And you over there, you're so angry you just want to kill us all, don't you?” “I can't see the rest of you, but these three, these three, I know what's up with you.” The protestor turned his back on the cop squad and joined the group heading north.
Over the course of the day, maybe 300 people came and went from the protest area in front of the Anaheim Police Department, and reports are that another 50 or so held their ground in front of Disneyland. Outside the APD, a crew stood on the sidewalk facing the cops. After two killings and a shooting in the previous week, the anti-cop chants were angry, mostly blunt and fierce: “Fuck, fuck, fuck the police” was a frequent refrain. Sometimes it was simply, "This is what a police state looks like." Another group sat across the parking lot, cooling off under a small stand of trees. The parking lot itself was covered in chalked messages: outlines of bodies, anti-police sentiment, and solidarity with the residents of Anaheim. Chalkupiers had done their work.
The protestors, mostly local but some from as far away as Oakland and San Diego, had assembled to protest the police killings of Manuel Diaz and Joel Acevedo in the previous week. The shootings had ignited a town that was reeling from six police-involved killings so far this year, compared to eight criminal murders. The surnames of this year's victims—Bernie Cervantes Villegas, Gerardo Piñeda, Roscoe Cambridge, Martin Angel Hernandez, Manuel Angel Diaz, Joel Aceveda—point to a disturbing bull's eye on Latinos in a city that's only 25% Latino/a. Anaheim police are quick to tell visitors that their city's crime rate is lower than the state of California overall. What's becoming apparent is that the local police are intent on maintaining that status even if it means wanton intimidation, violence, and terror.
Disruptions in protests earlier in the week--thrown bottles and trash bins set on fire—had brought the police out today in overwhelming force. Onlookers pointed to the snipers posted on top of the Bank of America building, and if you kept looking up and around, you could see snipers on the roofs of all of the surrounding buildings, side by side with people who appeared to looky-loos, maybe employees in the buildings, maybe friends of the cops. The requisite helicopter circled overhead, a beacon for out of town protestors looking for the protest site.
On the ground, a hundred more cops were visible on foot, in cars, on motorcycles, and in a line on horseback that trampled the plants in the median. Media vans and residents peered past the horses to see the protestors. When asked about the low protestor turn-out, a resident pointed out that this is Orange County, the conservative-flight destination from L.A. Her recollection of the last protest in Anaheim was 1994.
At about 2:00, protestors decided to hook up with the group outside Disneyland and head south. Along the way, you could see sheriffs and some of the visiting police forces milling around small staging areas. One guy in a black uniform with a S.W.A.T. patch strolled around with a large gun. Another crew of twenty or so wore camouflage with generic vests labeled merely “Police,” and rode around in what appeared to be black, unmarked SUVs. The protestors debated whether these were more of the S.W.A.T. team or National Guard. By now it was clear that the paramilitary cops and whomever outnumbered the protestors. When the protestors reached West Ball Road, the cops forced the group away from their destination, left into a residential neighborhood.
On Ball west of Lemon St. the cops used the horses to encircle most of the protestors, leaving a few standing with area residents across the street. All along Ball and down the long stretch of Lemon back around to Ball, neighbors stood outside watching the action, children in tow, smiling and nodding to protestors making their way through the neighborhood. The police snatched a few protestors before sending the rest back to police headquarters.
At the headquarters, speakers spoke, folks took turns standing in the sun, people in cars honked and cheered, and cops from all the small towns in the area added to their paychecks at Anaheim residents' expense. It was around 5:00 p.m. when four cop cars with sirens and lights, eight cops in all, rolled up on a local guy about half a mile from the protest to cite him for carrying a Bud in a can on the streets. It was a day of over-the-top responses.
A bit later, the sirens blared again, and the cops were dashing back up Harbor Blvd. to the protest. A crowd had jammed around the news van doing a 6:00 p.m. live broadcast, and suddenly the horses trotted back in and this time faced east. Nobody quite knew why. The guy who had first headed to the news van would be arrested before the night was over.
After the flurry, the local protestors headed out to a memorial service in the neighborhood where Manuel Diaz lived, and they invited some of the out-of-towners, including the crew from Occupy Los Angeles, along. With the guidance of the locals, our group of about twenty started a circuitous two-mile walk to the service at La Palma Ave. and N. Anna Dr. The protestors took to the street until the police came along and ordered them onto the sidewalk. We complied, but apparently that wasn't good enough. As the group rounded a corner, the cops rode their horses onto the sidewalk and pinned the group against a wall. Three more protestors were dragged away, apparently for being on the sidewalk, or maybe for saying mean things to cops. The group continued with the cops at their side until the cops unexpectedly veered away. Word was we were entering a neighborhood where cops weren't welcome. As we walked, we passed another gaggle of cops on the hanging out on the southeast corner of North and Las Palmas, but they didn't bother the marchers. Maybe it was the crowd of residents on the southwest corner, jammed onto someone's front lawn and porch, and wrapping around the corner behind us.
When the occupiers and associates reached the service, the residents came out to stop us at the end of the block where the service was being held. We weren't welcome. They didn't want the disruption, and one resident said there was fear of the cops coming down on the neighborhood if OLA was allowed in. Some harsh words were exchanged, and OLA milled around, clearly disappointed and unsure of how to proceed. The local folks who escorted us went down the block to negotiate. If the occupiers promised not to chant, if they left their signs on the corner, they would be allowed in. With the permission of the neighborhood residents, OLA joined those who were mourning Sr. Diaz and Sr. Aceveda.
In neighborhood after neighborhood, barrio after barrio, the people who lived there gathered on lawns, behind picket fences, on porches, on corners with cameras or children in arms and smiled to the protestors who shouted that the Anaheim police were racist, that they are terrorists, that the protestors “ain't afraid of no racist cops.” There were a few hundred in the street; it was evident there were thousands standing just a few steps back.
A protestor perched himself atop the much-publicized water-filled barricade in front of police headquarters and wondered nonchalantly, “Does anyone think I should be afraid?” Just a couple of stories above and behind him, three police snipers hung out with their guns. Someone pointed them out to the guy, and he said, “Yeah, I know. So should I be afraid?” He swung his legs as if he were on a playground swing.
Attending the Catholic and Indigenous memorial service, chatting with the padre about how the community was using the killings to initiate a gang truce, brought home that there is a story to tell about Manuel and Joel and the rest of the victims of Anaheim Police Department. It's easy to forget that when you're nose-to-nose with a half-ton horse that's being forced to back you into a wall. It's easy to remember when a neighborhood risks a police incursion to let you attend their memorial service and feeds you homemade tamales. That's not this story, but to Manuel Diaz's and Joel Acevedo's families and friends, thank you for reminding me that the real story, the one I haven't told here, is about the people and not about the cops who assault and kill them.
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