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Today at noon will be the third consecutive Sunday noon protest rally at the Anaheim Police Station on Harbor and Broadway since July 21. That was the day that Manuel Diaz was killed and the neighbors on Anna Drive were shot with “less lethal” weapons while protesting that action. (It always bears repeating that some family members, starting with Theresa Smith, the mother of shooting victim Caesar Cruz, have been protesting there each Sunday for the past year.)
Wednesday will be the meeting of the Anaheim City Council — the bullet, so to speak, that councilwoman Gail Eastman crowed that the Council had dodged when a protest led to premature adjournment of its meeting on July 24 — at Anaheim High school, at which the Council will decide whether to put proposals onto the November ballot regarding district elections for City Council and barring further “Transient Occupancy Tax” deals without voter approval.
The Wednesday meeting has been controversial. Thomas Holguin, a former Anaheim Unified School District Trustee, was quoted saying that ”opening it up to over a thousand people I think is just going to create more of a worse situation than what we have now.” Councilwoman Lori Galloway (who with Mayor Tom Tait has been in the minority on such issues, set against a Council majority of Eastman, Kris Murray, and Harry Sidhu) predicted that the Council would not hold such a meeting due to security concerns. Whether due in part to her implicit dare or not, the Council went ahead with this special meeting, which will have been held early enough to place such measures on the ballot.
All of this begs the question for the next several days: can Anaheim keep the peace? If so, how — both financially and in terms of the reputations of both the City and its dominant industry: Disneyland-centered tourism.
I’ve attended each of the past two Sunday rallies, the first as a participant and the second as a legal observer. (I haven’t yet decided in what capacity I’ll attend tomorrow.) Last week’s rally was followed by a protest march that my source John says started out exclusively on the sidewalk southward towards Disneyland but that by the time it reached Ball Rd. had spilled onto the street. This led to the kettling (or if Duane Roberts is correct, semi-kettling — “colandering”?) of activists on Cambridge Street who were allowed to dribble off past police onto Lemon, after which nine of them were arrested. I don’t know what is planned for tomorrow — if there even is a cohesive plan, which I doubt. (I’m told, though, that I’m on the wrong Facebook pages if I wanted to find out. Fine by me.)
As we found with Occupy last fall and winter, the police would really like to turn the discussion away from the substantive critique at hand and to “right to protest” issues. Some protesters agree with them. Groups like the ANSWER Coalition (which seems to come mostly from LA) and perhaps some out of town Occupy-affiliated groups — have wanted a confrontation with police. That doesn’t mean that they’ve planned on breaking the law; it does mean that they want to chant “Fuck the Police,” draw on the ground with chalk, and generally make the point that the are beyond police control.
Most Occupy OC people I know (including the Santa Ana group) do not seem down with this program. For one thing, it is not what the families of the shooting victims say that they want, and Occupy people have tried to take some guidance from them. My feeling is that “Fuck the Police” turns off those who are not already devoted to that cause, tends to alienate the police needlessly, and tends to turn attention away from the basic issue of excessive use of force to the right to … well, say “fuck the police” in the face of cops.
I believe that one has a constitutional right to do so. That does not make it a good idea. I do want to stand up against police misconduct, but I want to do it in such a way that, were I to get arrested, it would be clear to everyone that it was unjust. I think that that’s how you put a claim on the attention and sympathy of those not in the movement.
On the other hand, it’s not clear at all to me that at least some of those who were arrested last week were doing anything other than exactly that. Richard Florence (that last name is apparently a pseudonym) of Occupy LA was arrested after posing with his “Mickey Mouse says: check out my military police” sign — and I’m not sure what he did to deserve it. (I don’t particularly like dragging in Disney, but there’s no question that it’s constitutional.) It seems to me that his arrest may have had more to do with his organizing the Chalk Walk in July that led to the arrests of a many non-Occupiers, a tactic for which he recently apologized and pledged not to repeat this month.
But do you see what happened there? I wanted to talk about the underlying issues — and I just got diverted into discussing the “right to protest” issues myself. Let’s focus on the issues for a moment.
The underlying issues
The underlying issue, to boil it down, is that Anaheim has a gang problem and the police seem to want to deal with it more harshly than legally allowed.
One can argue about whether the “gangs” are truly gangs; whether all of their members are dangerous; whether they are formed in response to social repression, racism, and lack of economic and educational opportunity; whether society truly doesn’t want them or merely pretends not to want them because, after, lots of suburbanites with money do want their illegal drugs; whether some police are complicit with them or even directly involved in gang operations; and so on — and I’m not going to get into any of that. (Regarding the last, I have no idea.) We start with the fact that Anaheim has a youth crime problem and police want to stop it or at least not appear to condone it.
I have sympathy for the police here; I have sympathy for the parents and residents who worry about their children becoming involved in gangs or who are themselves beleaguered by gangs. Anyone who doesn’t understand where the police are coming from on this aspect of the issue should try harder to understand.
We have limits to what the police can do, though. One limit is: if they don’t pose a threat at a given moment, you bring them in alive. Another limit is: you don’t use excessive force, especially against protesters. Another limit is: you don’t suppress evidence. And let’s be clear: that (and specifically the video captured on KCAL9) is the main reason why the lonely protests of the past 18 months have suddenly grown. Yes, some groups have sailed in to take the chance to boost their “revolutionary agendas,” but the reason that most in the community (roughly north, central, and west OC and some of the Gateway Cities area) are there is that they are horrified by what happened.
Let’s remember: the police appear to have summarily executed someone — he could have been a rotten criminal for all I know but that is not the point: our society still does not summarily execute people to save money, time, or uncertainty of conviction. They then shot protesting bystanders in apparent violation of the rules for use of “less-that-lethal” (or more properly “less-lethal”) weapons. Supposedly some of them were throwing water bottles or something, which is not good, but it pales next to the wrong done by a summary execution.
If you summarily execute someone in front of the neighbors, the neighbors have the right to get upset. Unless you’re at serious — serious – risk of injury, put up with the abuse. If you are at serious risk of injury, maybe it’s time to leave for the day. You’ve just sacrificed your right to deferential treatment — because you summarily executed someone. Worse, you appear not to be taking it very seriously, because you then engage in what looks like a turkey shoot. Go away unless you get another call. Send in the clerics and community leaders to calm things down; send in people to whom the community might listen. If you violate the law that badly, expect to pay a price.
(Oh, and if you try to buy the evidence of what happened from people who took videos of it — just quit the force. You are not police material.)
Back to the timeline
So as of Sunday July 22, the police were looking bad. Their break, if you want to call it that, came on July 24, where after a raucous — understandably so, eh? — demonstration outside of Anaheim City Hall, some people engaged in throwing traffic cones and police cars (that’s bad) and breaking windows and looting stores (that’s worse.)
Protesters note: that’s when things went south. From that moment on, the police could claim to just be preserving law and order. Which side do you expect the public to be on?
The Anaheim Police Chief quickly jumped on the bandwagon of blaming outside groups including Occupy — which really chaps me because Occupy OC and Occupy Santa Ana never engaged in violence and only rarely engaged in non-violent civil disobedience — and blowing up the threat to justify an enormous response. And an enormous response is what we got last Sunday.
The pictures are pretty breathtaking. I understand why the police think that they have to mobilize for the worst case, but: horses? Officers in riot gear? In camouflage? Sharpshooters on the roof? Grenade launchers — even if intended only for smoke? Really?
There was only one day — Tuesday the 24th — when a small number of protesters engaged in any property destruction, let alone physical violence, and this is what we get?
I hear murmurs that the size of the response was because people were talking trash on Facebook about what they planned to do at Sunday’s rally. Well, whatever they planned to do — they didn’t do it. The rally was at times rude and raucous, but never violent, never destructive of property, and apparently only slightly civil disobedient (in straying from the sidewalk near Ball Rd.) If a mass arrest was planned for Cambridge Street, as two of three reports suggest, it was unjustified; more than that, it was provocative.
The police should be working with the family members who sponsored the rally to keep things calm. This may require some goodwill gestures on the part of police regarding the victims’ families. (Here’s an easy one — the officers who were involved in the shootings can be put on duty elsewhere today. Put them south of Disneyland; there’s plenty for them to do there.) It would be nice to see police specifically state that they can be insulted as much as they want. (Maybe it would make people get tired of it. That would be nice.)
The police overreaction — I could be convinced that intelligence information meant that it wasn’t that, but I would need convincing — just plays into the hands of people who want a confrontation over “right to protest” issues. If the police want that — which they shouldn’t — they’re going about it the right way. But here’s a good reason — even aside from the fact that they’re alienating rather than engaging as potential partners — that they shouldn’t: it’s really, really expensive.
Some cynics say that Homeland Security welcomes the expense because it gives them real-life training opportunities in dealing with civil unrest. Could be, though I hope not. I certainly don’t think that Anaheim, Fullerton, and other police forces in the area can afford it. Four SWAT teams? I heard numbers thrown around like $1,000,000 for Sunday alone — numbers I have no idea how to verify. Is this a good use of our money — against a motley group that … stepped off of the sidewalk?
More than that, such an overreaction allows for monumental amounts of chain-yanking. One story I heard is that the police were responding to chatter on Facebook groups — which I think that it’s no surprise that they monitor — about people talking about massive protest actions coming up. If the police overreact like this, then protesters can essentially bleed the budget dry just by saying every weekend that they’re all really really coming out this time. At some point, doesn’t the cost of the reaction become too great? (And guys — people in the community live here. They can wait you out.)
It so happens that in researching this story I came across the Facebook page for today’s noon rally. How many people say that they’re going, do you think? Yes, you guessed it: 1,190. I will be surprised — gratified in some ways, but more surprised — if more than 10-15% of that number show up. (And if they do, what of it, so long as they’re just protesting?)
Ah, but that’s the rub — are they going to be just protesting? In Occupy, we had a rule from the start: nobody brings any weapons into an encampment. I like that; political extremists and weapons are a bad mix. I also realizes that it contrasts with the Tea Party custom of lots of people showing up armed — because, of course, it’s our Second Amendment right to do so. And so you saw people brandishing guns — even, famously, when protesting a rally at which President Obama was to appear.
So let me ask: are people allowed to bring guns to this rally? If not, why? I hope, frankly, that the answer is “no.” But if people are not allowed to bring weapons — shouldn’t the police say why that is, in light of the Second Amendment protections in D.C. vs. Heller?
Here’s what it looks like to me (and I’m sure others): right-wingers get to bring guns wherever they want because they are only messing around when they pose as opponents of the government. Left-wingers (and the libertarians of the Kelly’s Army stripe than have been at the rallies) don’t get to bring weapons because, even though they are generally much less doctrinaire about gun rights, they actually are in opposition to the real power base of society.
Even though I don’t want weapons there, I know that that’s not fair and it will not fly. I’d like to know from police whether people can have weapons at the rally and, if they can’t, why not. Yes, this could lead to a lawsuit against the city — and that’s fine. What’s not fine is enforcing a rule against weapons if such a rule is impermissible.
I should note that there one really good way to make it less likely that people will bring weapons while keeping within the limits of the Constitution: make it a situation in which having weapons is inappropriate and stigmatized. That mean ratcheting down the overt show of police power — and that starts with leaving the militarized police at home.
When one looks at the timeline, the threat of violence at the City Council meeting seems absurd. There was violence on July 24, when the Council appeared to have given the impression that they weren’t going to listen to protesters. But now they have spoken at last week’s Council meeting– and nothing terrible happened. Protesters have also held non-violent vigils and the great majority of them have eschewed violence from the start. Have a police presence, sure — but keep it low key. Part of this is about showing people that they are trustworthy rather than an alien force within their own city.
It should go without saying that the Council, composed of four Anaheim Hills residents and one Colony resident, none of them Latino, should approve district elections at the meeting (ideally it would be six districts and an at-large elected mayor.) When I look at the Council’s composition I’m reminded of the Senate Judiciary Committee back in 1992, when an all-male panel of Senators tried haplessly to grapple with Anita Hill’s charges of workplace sexual impropriety against Clarence Thomas. Shortly after that, they appointed a woman, non-lawyer Dianne Feinstein, to the Judiciary Committee. Similarly, the Anaheim City Council should wish that it had at least one Latino member right now. Once the district elections go into effect, it probably will.