Disneyland Observes a Night of Silence in Memory of Joel Acevedo.




disneyland and joel acevedo

I hear Disneyland told Gabriel San Roman they had “technical problems” last Friday night preventing them from setting off their usual nightly fireworks, the ones that drive dogs crazy for ten miles around (all the way to HB I can attest), the ones that make central Anaheim sound like a war zone every night around 9pm and kick in people’s PTSD, the ones whose chemicals possibly contribute to the higher incidence of asthma and other illnesses in the local children.

That “technical problems” excuse is bullshit, or possibly a really lame PR euphemism.  We know, because we were there.  Disneyland’s “technical problem” that night was that two police helicopters were flying in circles for at least an hour in the no-fly zone where the fireworks usually end up, blaring indecipherable orders and threats through their speaker systems.

And why were those helicopters there in the way of the firework display?  Because July 22 was the 4th anniversary of the Anaheim police killing of Joel Acevedo, and about a hundred of us decided to march from the police station to Disneyland, MOSTLY stopping southbound traffic on Harbor (after a while we let one lane pass freely.)  And the closer we got to Disneyland, the more nervous the police helicopters got, and continuously barked things at us that we couldn’t hear over our music – although aside from that the APD left us alone.

July 22, 2012

Joel with brother Robert

Joel with brother Robert

This won’t be the place where I detail ALL the reasons many of us don’t believe the police/DA story of what happened to 21-year old Joel on that tragic summer night.  Shorthand version only here.  The night before, Officer Nick “Backshot” Bennallack had shot unarmed, fleeing Manuel Diaz in the back twice, in the Anna Drive barrio, causing the first of that month’s riots.  Bennallack and his partners did not get around to planting a gun on Manuel;  the next night police would not make that same mistake.

So the following night in the Guinida neighborhood, when the public was finally allowed to see Joel’s lifeless body, a large handgun was lying awkwardly between his feet.  (A large, heavy, expensive handgun of the sort police frequently use as a “throwaway gun” because there are others they like better.)  The officer who copped to the shooting, Kelly Phillips (who had already shot two other suspects, one fatally and one not) was given an unusual eight days to tell his story.  According to Phillips, Joel and two others ran from a pursued SUV, Joel then hid behind another SUV, turned and began to fire on a terrified Phillips, who returned fire and killed Joel with two shots.

At 3 with his mom

At 3 with his mom, looking just like his son does now – ironically, at Disneyland.

Some problems, aside from Joel having no history of violence, and none of his friends ever having known him to have a gun.  The police story changed after the first few hours, when they were telling press and family that someone had fired at them from the SUV Joel ran from, and that they had found a gun in that car.  Why would that story disappear and be replaced by an entirely new story?   An officer later identified as then-Deputy Chief Craig Hunter offered to let Joel’s aunt Katrina see his body, on the condition that she would testify she saw a gun on him – she refused his deal with profanity.  Also, it’s impossible to square the bullet trajectories through Joel’s body with Phillips’ accounts.

What several witnesses DID see was Joel being handcuffed and then executed by Phillips.  Most of these witnesses were repeatedly “visited” and “questioned” by police, and quietly moved away.  The one unafraid witness had been painstakingly discredited by authorities and forced to confess to gang terrorism charges at the risk of losing her children, in an effort to make her testimony not credible to a jury.

joel with his momWHY did police kill Joel?  We have no idea and wish we did.  We know that they’d been chasing him through the neighborhood just three days before, firing tasers at him.  He had no record beyond graffiti, and then the inevitable cycle of probation violations that comes from being seen with your friends.  (That’s what we mean by “criminalization.”)  I suspect they chose him because he was a smartass who was good at getting away from them, and they were teaching all such young men a lesson.  His many friends remember him as extremely generous, hilariously funny, and very protective of the children and women of the neighborhood.

However his family’s case turns out, this brings up another reason to Film the Police whenever you see anything unusual going on.  Not only does that tend to prevent bad things from happening, but as activist Damion Ramirez reminded us Friday night:  Most of these killer cops do it more than once, and do other illegal things more than once;  and once they are caught in a crime they can’t deny, everything they have been involved in will be looked at again.  So, just conceivably, some day there could be justice for Joel Acevedo.

joel justice

But yeah, back to Friday night, there were about a hundred of us – the extended family of Anaheim police victims just keeps growing and growing and will not keep silent.  Newly swollen by family and friends of Vincent Valenzuela, who succumbed this month to being tasered in the heart eight days earlier, the peaceful but angry crowd included family and friends of Manuel Diaz, Caesar Cruz, Martin Hernandez, Marcel Ceja, Kelly Thomas, Joe Whitehouse, Michael Nida, Gustavo Najera, Boaz Balenti and others.

And to those of us who knew Joel Acevedo, and those of us who wish we had, that Friday night July 22 really did seem like a moment of silence from Disneyland.

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About Vern Nelson

Greatest pianist/composer in Orange County, and official political troubadour of Anaheim and most other OC towns. Regularly makes solo performances, sometimes with his savage-jazz band The Vern Nelson Problem. Reach at vernpnelson@gmail.com, or 714-235-VERN.