Did Anaheim Almost Arrest Hundreds of Peaceful Marchers on Sunday?

After the protest rally at the Anaheim Police Station ended at 2:00, a “March to Disneyland” began, heading southward on Harbor Blvd. from Santa Ana Street.  I wasn’t in favor of  that march; I don’t think that we protesters should be bringing Disney into this until it is clear that they’re going to use their power to block rather than facilitate reconciliation within the city.  I don’t think we’re there yet; hopefully, we never will be.

My source for this story, an Occupy OC member whom I’ll call “John” (after photojournalist John Hoagland), wasn’t in favor of it either, nor was he in favor of the aggressively anti-police signs and chants that some protesters employed at the Anaheim police station from which the march began.  John, like me, has argued strenuously and with great success in favor of non-violence and non-destruction within Occupy OC.  His view is that the A.P.D. rally is not an Occupy event — it has been going on each Sunday for a year and a half, after all — but that we’re simply there because the families have asked for our help in protesting excessive use of police force.  Still, if the march was going to take place, John was going to document it through livestream, so he went along on the march.

Police in military combat regalia stopped that march at Ball Rd.  The photos I’d seen led me to believe that protesters had been walking in one of the traffic lanes of Harbor Blvd., which (absent a permit) is a sure recipe for being left at the mercy of the cops.  I shook my head sadly when I saw that photo.  I later read from Amber Stephens that some protesters ran down Cambridge Street and that nine were later arrested and released a little after midnight.

All of that is true — but if John is right, that story leaves out the most interesting and important parts.

Map of area of march

The blue line is the path of the march, diverted from Harbor at Ball and led onto Cambridge St.

I can’t vouch for John’s story because I wasn’t there, but it is supposedly bolstered by video, which I hope to obtain.  His report goes like this:

First, originally the marchers had all been on the sidewalk as they were supposed to be.  They had only moved off of the sidewalk because at one point the police had moved some of their horses on the sidewalk and blocked it to pedestrian traffic.  If they were to move forward, therefore, they had to go onto the street.  (Can others who were out there confirm this?)  No dispersal order was given at this time letting people know that the march was being abrogated as illegal.

Second, John says that when the marchers got to Ball Road, police initially tried to kettle them at a Chevron station at the corner of Harbor and Ball.  (“Kettling” is essentially trapping protesters or marchers in an enclosed space, the better to process them one way or another.)  He estimates that there were perhaps 200 marchers there, although I’ve heard both larger and smaller estimates.  That attempt at kettling didn’t take, though, at which point police led the protesters eastward on Ball across Harbor.  At another police block, they were then diverted to the first northbound street, Cambridge, which is parallel to Lemon St. but proceeds north for only three blocks.  (See map above.)

Cambridge is a street of mostly middle-class to working-class single-family homes, with some apartment buildings at its northernmost point, a cul-de-sac.  As protesters walked up Cambridge, police closed in behind them — and then other police began moving into the street from the only outlet other than Ball, a short connector to Lemon St. named Camden Ave.  Now the protesters were properly kettled — with nowhere to go at all — and John says that the police were there with loads of twist-ties apparently preparing for mass arrests.  He reports that they had a big bus there, I think he said from the OC Sheriffs, ready to take people away.  When the marchers realized that they were in danger, they began running down the street — but with Camden controlled by the police there would be nowhere to go.

Let’s take a step back for a moment: (1) at this point, the protesters had neither broken any significant law (they did walk in the street, but if the sidewalks were blocked by horses they may be excused for thinking that that’s what they were supposed to do) nor engaged in any violence to person or property and (2) there were a whole lot more of them than the nine who were ultimately arrested.  If John is right, the authorities had apparently planned for arrests in numbers up to the hundreds — a scale comparable to those kettled on streets and bridges in some of the initial marches of Occupy Wall Street.

It was a cunning plan except for one thing: they pissed off the neighbors on Cambridge St.  John reports that one mounted officer led his horse onto someone’s lawn, at which point the irate homeowner told him to get off his property or he’d turn the water hose on him and his horse — which he then did.  (I have to admit that I find this highly surprising.  John thinks that there’s footage of it.  As more and more residents of Cambridge Street came outside as a result of the ruckus, mixing with the protesters, it became clear that the police (and the sheriffs, and Homeland Security, and I don’t know who else) would not be able to separate the groups — and arresting residents of Cambridge Street in front of their own homes would have led to yet another PR nightmare.

The police abandoned the plans that John said they appeared to have for mass arrests — what would have likely, in fact, been headline-grabbing arrests.  The residents of Cambridge Street had, wittingly or not, come to the rescue of the protesters.  (One hopes that those residents will not face reprisals from any level of government — something that bears watching.)

Like John, I hope that future rallies at the Anaheim Police Station on Sundays at noon will tone it down.  Just as I don’t think calling Disney “fascist” right now is productive, I don’t think that chants of “Fuck the Police” and signs expressing the same sentiment are productive.  We in Occupy OC got along very well without them.  It may feel good to rage at the machine, but it puts the protests in a bad position by making the deportment of protesters (rather than the actions of police) the issue.  Think about it: the police don’t send agents provocateurs into protests to do the Occupy “We Don’t Hate You” chant; they send them there to repel the public by being confrontational.

But rowdy and aggressive as the rally at the Police Station was in matters of speech, it was simply not breaking any law.  “Fuck the Police” may be a nasty thing to say and a bad political tactic, but it’s perfectly legal to do so.  If John is right — and I look forward to seeing the footage that he says proves it and to hearing the testimony of others who were there — the police and their fellow organizations had made elaborate plans to make mass arrests of people who were committing no crimes.  (They may have tried to goad protesters into committing crimes by moving horses towards them until people would put out their hands in self-defense, but that’s not the same as assaulting a horse.)

Arrests of people engaged in legitimate political activity, especially against governmental abuse, is inexcusable — and we as a county cannot put up with it.  We need to redouble our commitment to non-violent resistance and protest, continue the demands for investigation and justice, and continue to exercise our right to protest legally and to its fullest.  Eventually, the police should get the message: no arrests over peaceful protests!

About Greg Diamond

Somewhat verbose attorney, semi-retired due to disability, residing in northwest Brea. Occasionally runs for office against bad people who would otherwise go unopposed. Got 45% of the vote against Bob Huff for State Senate in 2012; Josh Newman then won the seat in 2016. In 2014 became the first attorney to challenge OCDA Tony Rackauckas since 2002; Todd Spitzer then won that seat in 2018. Every time he's run against some rotten incumbent, the *next* person to challenge them wins! He's OK with that. Corrupt party hacks hate him. He's OK with that too. He does advise some local campaigns informally and (so far) without compensation. (If that last bit changes, he will declare the interest.)