The first Anaheim, California city council meeting since last month’s police violence and popular unrest took place Wednesday at the Anaheim High School auditorium. The city is the largest in southern California’s Orange County (336,000), some 25 miles southeast of Los Angeles.
Dozens of people spoke at the meeting about police brutality in Anaheim and elsewhere in the Los Angeles area. In response, the council voted to approve the formation of a citizens’ police oversight committee. The exact character of this committee and who would lead it were left vague. Such a body, if it ever comes into existence, will only serve to whitewash police criminality.
The council voted against a proposal to switch from at-large voting for council members to district voting, which would likely result in increased numbers of Latino politicians on the governing body. Some 52 percent of the city’s population are Latino.
The district voting measure was defeated 3 to 2, to the obvious displeasure of many in the crowd, who shouted at the end of the meeting, “We’ll be back.” The proposal, in the name of “diversifying” the predominantly white council, is an effort to direct popular anger into harmless channels and ultimately boost the local Democratic Party.
A supporter of the Socialist Equality Party, allowed three minutes to address the council meeting, spoke against the idea that elevating members of ethnic minorities to positions of power in the city would solve the problem of police brutality. Quite the contrary, the SEP speaker insisted, such a move would serve at best as a political smokescreen while further attacks were carried out.
The SEP member also referred to the deteriorating social conditions for masses of people in Anaheim, and across the country and around the globe. The Obama administration does nothing to address the social crisis while making trillions available for bank bailouts and predatory wars abroad, it was pointed out.
The public comments section of the council meeting August 8 lasted three hours and saw many residents speak out against police brutality and broader issues of social inequality in the city. Relatives of at least four victims of police killings addressed the gathering.
Genevieve Huizar, the mother of Manuel Diaz, killed by Anaheim police on July 21, told the council and the crowd, “It’s important for the marches and demonstrations to continue.” She added, “It’s time to make a change in Anaheim. We have so many children who don’t have decent schools or day care. Many young kids have to stay at home by themselves and are scared. We need recreation spaces, day care and quality schools. The quality of life for Anaheim kids should be greatly improved.”
While Ms. Huizar was speaking, a man in a suit got up and began verbally assaulting her, saying, “You’re a horrible mother!” He was immediately shouted down by members of the audience and was forced to leave the meeting. Many of those in attendance rushed to comfort Ms. Huizar and she was given a standing ovation at the end of her comments.
Through tears, a friend of Manuel Diaz also spoke to the meeting: “We are all scared of the police. Whenever young people are confronted with the police, they know that they will be either shot or beat down.”
Donna Acevedo, the mother of Joel Acevedo, killed by Anaheim police the day after Diaz, also spoke of the harassment her family received from police. She told the meeting, “When the Anaheim gang unit first came to us, they didn’t express their condolences or anything. Instead they demanded to know the names and whereabouts of all of my children.”
Ms. Acevedo spoke about the so-called Gang Enforcement Unit, part of the Anaheim Police Department (APD). She recounted how police one time had driven an impounded car from a rival gang through a neighborhood shouting gang names to instigate violence in that neighborhood. Other residents at the meeting also referred to the same unit, nicknamed “the killing crew.”
After hours of such testimony, a picture emerged of an impoverished, working class community regularly terrorized by a police force that acts with impunity. One of the last speakers, a young high school junior, described the social environment that gives rise to such violence. “You don’t understand because you don’t live where I do," she told the council. “It’s unsafe. There’s nothing beautiful about it, and it smells horrible. There’s kids everywhere and they play in the street and between cars because there’s no open space where I live.”
When a statement by the Anaheim Police Association, defending the actions of the APD, was read out to the meeting, some members of the audience stood with their backs to the speaker in protest. Other individuals who expressed support for the APD were interrupted with boos. One speaker in particular sought to blame parents for not getting their kids involved in community activities. This prompted an outburst from some audience members, who shouted, “What about jobs?”
The Anaheim police showed up in force outside the high school auditorium and some local businesses were boarded up out of fear of a further confrontation between police and residents.
In the end, the city council neither addressed the underlying issues that gave rise to the recent unrest in Anaheim nor proposed any solutions to them.