Yo. Anaheim Council. CAN YOU HEAR US NOW!?!?!?


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BAM! BAM! BAM!

That’s the sound of my head pounding repeatedly against the brick wall of futility and frustration.

BAM! BAM! BAM!

Following many months of public protest, following many months of residents lining up at City Council meetings, begging their elected leaders for help in restoring some semblance of peace to their embattled neighborhoods, the Anaheim City Council has announced… which of these?  Guess:

A)    Plans to create a Citizens Oversight Committee to work with Police and get to the root of why residents feel so unsafe that they are mobbing law enforcement responders with video cameras in an attempt to ensure officers “behave” while in their area.

OR:

B)    Plans to enforce “rules of decorum” for Council meetings, because they object to how rude the public has become when addressing them.

Yep…God help us…the answer is B.

Don’t get me wrong, I think the meetings have become unruly to the point of affecting productivity.  The clapping, cheering, hootin’ and a’hollerin’ between speakers bogs down the transition time between speakers, riles up already hot tempers, and diminishes the credibility of speakers viewed by more conservative residents watching the meetings online.  Frankly the solidarity of supporters would be more dramatically-and effectively-shown by having a pre-determined spokesperson ask others to stand if they support a specific viewpoint, rather than base a show of support on how loud the room can get.  I will even go so far as to admit I do not always feel particularly safe during some portions of the meetings, as tempers flare and a few of the speakers seem…well…not quite as balanced as one might wish

Combine that with the lack of oversight regarding security – I was permitted to waltz into Chambers pulling a roller bag (electronics) fully expecting to be searched (my husband insisted I would not be allowed in at all) yet the Police department’s only concern was whether the large carrying case would block the aisle.  I know that I carried no weapons, but I have no such assurance regarding some of the other whack jobs in the room. That bothered me more than a little.  On the other hand, do I want more big-brother nanny-state security?

Well, given the options available, (like listening to the public, resolving their issues, and allowing them to go on with their lives?) apparently the solution Council conjured up was to explain to the unwashed masses how things are done in polite society.

As Gail Eastman told the Register, “I think that the better we can educate our citizens, the more productive meetings we’ll have.”

Contrary to the assumption that us ignorant backwoods bumpkins simply don’t know how to behave in public, and merely need to be taught how to conduct ourselves, I would hazard a guess that most attendees at the meetings are aware of proper decorum.  The escalating behavior is likely not accidental.  The impression I get is that these citizens are not yelling because they do not know any better, these people are yelling because they are convinced our leaders failed to hear them the first time!  When Donna Acevedo asks, “Have you heard us?!” it is not a rhetorical question! She expects – and deserves – an answer from those who asked for the privilege to represent Anaheim on that dais.   That means ALL of Anaheim.

This ties in with what on the surface seems to be an unrelated interview by Voice of OC, in which an interview with APD spokesman, Sergeant Bob Dunn, shared this information:

Talk of police harassment has been aired publicly for months, often during public comments at City Council meetings. But Dunn said that the police department first became aware of the allegations when a Voice of OC reporter called.

“At this point we are looking into that allegation,” Dunn said. “If [Voice of OC reporter] Nick Gerda had not called me to tell me what their concerns are, we would not know.”

Anaheim tells the world we have one of the largest, most professional (and certainly well funded) Police forces in the nation.  So how do they miss such basics?  For Dunn to publicly claim he only just heard about something that has been blogged into oblivion, and the topic of multiple widely broadcast Council meetings, just smacks of embarrassment.  It also smacks of untruth.  Over at Matt Cunningham’s Chamber-funded AnaheimBlog,  Sergant Dunn makes it sound as though these protests harassing Police personnel are well known to the department.  [Link unavailable - ed.]

According to Sgt. Dunn, this has become common in that neighborhood. He mentioned a recent incident: a pursuit that ended with the police securing the vehicle, in which a firearm was found. As police secured the creme [sic-it’s Matt] scene, someone in a  car with an “FTP: Film the Police” sticker circled the area, yelling obscenities and calling the officers murderers.”

Dunn described situations when officers are forced to call for backup because they are being questioned by angry residents, which diverts the officer’s attention from the incident he was called in to handle. Dunn said officers would be happy to field questions afterward.

So apparently Dunn (and his Chamber-paid spokesperson at Anaheim Blog) wants us to believe that this these Ustream videos type of confrontation happens to cops all the time, and yet he simultaneously claims to be shocked – shocked I tell you! – that the public might not be fond of each and every one of the officers on Anaheim’s streets.

“Dunn said that the police department first became aware of the allegations when a Voice of OC reporter called. “At this point we are looking into that allegation,” Dunn said. “If [Voice of OC reporter] Nick Gerda had not called me to tell me what their concerns are, we would not know.”

Los Angeles Local News, Weather, and Traffic

Is Dunn lying?  Or he is simply not very good at his job, which involves keeping tabs on what is going on in the community?  I am not a fan of paying good taxpayer money for either of those answers.  What’s worse, if Dunn had genuinely missed those many, many citizen complaints brought publicly to City Council, his insistence that this is the first he has heard of residents opposing Police behavior tells us the City Council has failed to call for accountability from the Police Department.

Whump. Whump.  Nah, not the brick wall any more, I wised up and walked away. That Whump-whump was the sound of Dunn throwing his bosses under the bus. The only way he has not heard about this is if public comments went no further than the dais at Council. I guess the answer to Donna Acevedo’s “Have you heard us?” would be…no. 

The Anaheim residents lining up at the podium week after week, exhibiting the behavior their elected representatives object to, are not there with minor complaints like potholes or traffic congestion (although those are serious enough.)  Their stories trigger basic fears in those of us who hear them:

  • Good kids without criminal records put into the system because they stopped to play basketball with the neighbor they have known since Kindergarten – thus earning a label for “associating with known gang members.”  There is no known appeals process for getting your otherwise good kid off the list, and as it’s not a criminal charge there is no obligation for a trial, sharing of evidence, or even notification that your child has been labeled in such a manner.
  • Officers involved in shootings are reassigned to the same neighborhoods, where they routinely encounter the families and friends of those they shot.  They are permitted to interact with witnesses in pending investigations, and those who have filed lawsuits against the City – because there’s no policy against the practice.  This includes at least one officer whose case is still being reviewed for potential criminal charges by the DA – openly cruising the neighborhood where some witnesses have reportedly not yet given statements to the DA’s investigators.
  • Reports of officers involved in shootings verbally harassing or threatening family members of the deceased, and allegedly making threatening statements to neighborhood leaders.
  • Policies that allow bodies damaged with graphic injuries to lie on the pavement for hours, in full view of children, before being taken to the morgue.
  • Reports of disrespectful handling of the deceased in view of others.  Neighbors report that Joel Acevedo was stripped naked and dragged to the Coroner’s vehicle.  In an area with extremely strong cultural reverence for the dead this is doubly insulting.
  • Anna Drive bystanders (especially children) who witnessed friends, family, and neighbors fired upon on by Police had no way to determine officers were not using live rounds.  While the information was disclosed as residents were injured instead of killed, the fear induced by that event has left otherwise innocent witnesses in need of counseling.
  • Reports of officers coming to the homes of family members of the deceased, behaving in a disrespectful manner toward those not accused of any crime, with what is perceived as the apparent intent of intimidation.
  • Reports of discrepancies in the District Attorney’s review of the shootings, along with what appears to be no consequence for failing to activate the expensive digital audio recorders to capture evidence of the contacts, creates doubt of the veracity of the investigations.
  • Fear of conflict of interest, as Police union leader Kerry Condon serves on Council member Kris Murray’s host committee  for her re-election campaign kick-off, leave many convinced she will not risk the wrath of the most powerful public employee union in the City. Records show the Anaheim Police Association has spent hundreds of thousands in independent expenditure money for their chosen candidates. What are the odds Murray (or others) will call them on the carpet for their behavior?

Are these not issues worthy of the attention of our leaders?

Notice that in none of the above complaints do I defend gang members.  The abuses I’m discussing are actions against residents unfortunate enough to live in an impoverished area, infested with gangs.  These residents are just as entitled to a response from the Council majority as Bill O’Connell, dare I say more so, because they live in Anaheim.  Bill O’Connell fled the city, and its problems, long ago, returning only to generate paychecks.

And while we all work toward eradicating the hated gangs, the offensive actions of the Police that needlessly escalate hostilities in already tenuous areas is something well within the authority of City Council to call upon the City Manager to fix.  Resolve these issues and fighting the gangs becomes all that much easier, as Police stop making unnecessary enemies of the neighbors they are supposed to be partnering with. 

I know from experience that once a neighborhood feels their confidence has been betrayed by Police they will never again work with those officers, and it takes a long time to get them to work with ANY law enforcement.  The APD is not helping to rebuild bridges with their heavy-handed behavior, and without that collaboration between cops and locals, the gangs will continue to grow. 

Residents of low income areas rarely have experience or training in conflict resolution, and crisis management.  They have their hands full trying to help their kids expunge the mental images they unwittingly stored away in their minds, seeing the aftermath of crimes they had nothing to do with.  It’s the Police department that has the resources to bring in crisis management experts to help diffuse a situation that their personnel bumbled into, and I expect them to be the professional experts they claim themselves to be – that is the argument made against having citizen oversight -  so prove it!

Former Mayor Curt Pringle sent out mass messaging dismissing calls for oversight, claiming those requests are “politically motivated” while the head of the Police union serves on a sitting Council member’s political campaign team. The irony – or hypocrisy – is not missed.

Union leader Kerry Condon sent out emails and robocalls, telling us there is no need for oversight from civilians.  He claims that while serving over 350,000 people in this community the Police department only logged 19 complaints.  I could come up with that many complaints in one City Council meeting, much less in one year total.  The numbers cited clearly show the APD-and by extension the City Council, do not see these statements during Public Comments as legitimate complaints, to be logged, and investigated.

This is the ultimate tragedy of our current leadership.  They have failed to understand what it is that constituents are saying in their allotted 3 minutes.   We’re not there for our amusement, or because we like the attention, our aim is not even to annoy politicians (as much as their egos believe this is the reason for crowds being there.)  The public is there because our situation has become unbearable, and because filing a complaint through APD is either too intimidating – or has been done and ignored – and citizens have come to City Council for help as their last resort.  These candidates run on a platform of public safety, then when elected, turn away from the very people who elected them when public safety issues become political hot potatoes.  The good news is, those who elected the leaders can unelect them if they do not feel heard.

Our City Council needs to resolve these issues, and let the people – good, hard working people not involved with gangs but stuck living with the consequences of gangs and their interaction with APD – let the people of Anaheim know they have been heard and are valued.  Then I’ll bet that the obscenities and shouting matches drop off faster than they would from any enforcement of rules of decorum.

(BTW – Greg Diamond may wish to chime in, but I thought REQUIRING speakers to fill out speakers cards had been ruled illegal?)


About Cynthia Ward

I am a truth-teller. It gets me in trouble. But if you ask me if a dress makes you look fat, I will tell you so, and help select another, before you go on television and realize it for yourself. My real friends are expected to be truthful with me as well. A secret shared will be taken to my grave, but lie to me, and it will end up here…on these pages… especially if you are tasked with the stewardship of public resources. I am a registered Republican who disdains the local GOP power structure, a born-again Christian who supports everyone’s right to spend their lives with the partner of their choosing. I am a wife, a mother, a daughter, a sister. I am a loyal friend to those who merit that friendship and when crossed I am a bitch with a capital C. I do not fit into a box, nor do I see others through the stereotypes that politics and public affairs so often tries to shoehorn us into. I think for myself, and so do you. Welcome to our shared space in this world.