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Local journalist Amber Stephens has been on fire since Saturday night. Amber, late of the Daily Titan (and occasionally OJB) and now interning at OC Weekly, has been the go-to source for information on what is now four days and nights of “unrest” in the City of Anaheim — at and near the scene of the shooting at La Palma Ave. and Anna St., at the police station protest on Sunday, and now last night at Anaheim City Hall.
If you’ve heard of Twitter but never used it, this is the time to start. You can follow Amber’s reports in real time at https://twitter.com/amberjamie99pct, and send her twitter messages to @amberjamie99pct. For those of you who have thought that Twitter is all just self-indulgence and short-attention-span, this is an example of what it does at its best.
I don’t have the basis for my own reporting today, so I’m just recycling some highlights from Amber before I get to my own analysis. Here’s her summary posted from Twitter:
Although the day started out calmly with a group protesting near the street, protesters stormed Anaheim City Hall right before the City Council meeting was scheduled to start – many of them residents of the neighborhoods affected by the two police killings this weekend. Riot police emerged from the City Hall, where 25 officers lined up in the front pushing back protesters. After leaving City Hall, teenagers from those neighborhoods started to gather in the streets. More than 50 riot police from 10 OC cities showed up. Later on in the night, well over 100 police were on the scene with beanbag rounds and pepperball guns used to disperse crowds. Many bystanders have reported being hit. About a half dozen small fires were lit in the city.
The big event from last night was the conflict between police and protesters at Anaheim City Hall. She links to this video, which she took yesterday:
Many viewers will probably find parts of that video alienating. I wince whenever I’m at a rally and hear people chanting “fuck the police,” because policing is a necessary part of government. But policing should be done fairly and well — and that does not seem to be the case right now in Anaheim. Furthermore, it seems that — like the “secret bombings of Cambodia” that were kept a secret from Americans but obviously not from the Cambodians who were being bombed — Anaheim police have gotten away with a lot over the past few years because it hasn’t been on video.
But now the rest of us are in on the secret; we’ve seen one shooting and its aftermath through the eyes of the police. (No wonder they allegedly wanted to buy up the video.) Society’s understandable desire to reduce criminal behavior by gangs, and the delegation of responsibility for accomplishing it to police, has led to police militarization and to treating residents like an occupied enemy population. How do you expect people to act, now that they’re on camera and have our attention?
The fact is that the police were probably entirely justified in keeping people out of an already full (as I understand it) Council chamber. The underlying fact, though, is that police actions have led to an environment where protesters will be loud and rude. As JFK said, “those who make peaceful revolution impossible make violent revolution inevitable.” And so here we are — with the knot binding police and protesters pulled so tight that it will be hard to unravel.
One thing that Amber is doing right is to put the above raucous and rebellious protest in context. This is not the beginnings of the Anaheim protest; this is just their hitting a boiling point. She provides history of the most recent round of police conflict with the community going back to the killing of Caeser Cruz in 2009. Cruz’s mother, Theresa Smith, has been a leader of weekly protests in front of the Anaheim Police Station, of which this past Sunday’s was an especially large instance.
One thing that comes through Amber’s tweets is the breadth of OC law enforcement response from last night. Police were present from far and wide. Criminals from Garden Grove, Brea, Huntington Beach, Orange, Fullerton, Cypress, Placentia, Seal Beach, and Los Alamitos may be happy to notice that there are fewer police around their home towns– or if more police are on overtime due to this diversion of forces, the residents of these cities will notice it in their tax bills. (Oh, one day’s overtime won’t make a lot of difference — but we could be in for months of unrest in Anaheim.) If you live in Orange County, at least north and west of Irvine, then Anaheim’s problem is your problem too.
It’s also your problem — and Disney Inc.’s problem — because Anaheim has now been “marked” as a site of violent conflict between police and protesters. That doesn’t go away. When clashes like this happened in Oakland, they stayed at a boiling level for months. A major injury to an innocent protester, like the shell that Scott Olsen took to the head in Oakland, could lead to a much bigger eruption, with people heading to Anaheim from all over, just as those from the Bay Area who wanted direct conflict with police headed to Oakland. Anaheim — not the North Anna Drive part of it, but other parts — is a tourist destination. The fact that the shooting and conflict took place nowhere near Disneyland may be lost on potential tourists, who may come to think that Disneyland is located in the middle of an environment like Somalia. The police may try to crack down harder as a result — and that is very likely not to work. It’s not like they’ve been wearing kid gloves for the past 40 months, after all. Anaheim’s reputation may hang in the balance.
As much as I’ve argued that Occupy has to stay non-violent because otherwise we would slip into a category with which the cops were comfortable — the category of “violent resistance” into which the government has strained to place us — it’s hard to make that argument to the residents of Anna Drive who believe that they’re being suppressed by a racist and oppressive occupation force. Some Occupiers are there, but this is no longer an Occupy event. The poor and working class people of Anaheim, many of whom may not know or care about Wall Street corruption and Citizens United, are running the show now.
If the leaders of the City of Anaheim have any sense, they will look to community leaders such as LULAC President Benny Diaz to help broker a temporary peace and mutual understanding of the bounds of lawful protest in the weeks ahead. They will bring people like Theresa Smith — people who have built up credibility — into the process. Julio Perez might have been the kind of person who, were he a public official, could have helped to broker peace — but I don’t think that Tom Daly and Jose Solorio will be all that helpful. And, again, the notion that the response to this problem will be constructed by a City Council that is 80% from Anaheim Hills does not give one much confidence.
(Note: as I’ve noted, this is in my district, though of course I’m not an elected official. I don’t want to politicize the event, but in the unlikely event that someone determined that I could be helpful to any necessary discussions, I’d want to help — as I’m sure would most readers of this blog. I hope that my opponent, the incumbent, would do the same.)
There was also a development in Fullerton’s saga that began last July, the Kelly Thomas killing. The phone call from an employee of the Slidebar that called police out to what became that fatal encounter has been released. We’ve already known for a while that a call took place and that it accused Kelly Thomas of lifting handles on car doors, presumably to try to gain entry, a claim for which I know of no corroborating evidence. The speculation now is: did the woman who made the call actually think that she saw it happen, did she suspect that this sort of claim would be likely to get police to come out more quickly — or had she been instructed, directly or through an intermediary, that if she ever wanted homeless transients removed from the area, these were the magic words that she could say to get it to happen. A lot rides on the answer, including the question of whether Officers Ramos and Wolfe could have been acting in good faith in suspecting that Thomas was actually committing a crime. (None of this, I have to add, excuses Jay Cicinelli’s excessive use of force that likely led or contributed to Thomas’s death.)