Wednesday, July 25, 2012

What Are We Coming To?

I've been following the situation in Anaheim triggered by the police slaying -- some say it was a summary execution -- of Manny "Stomper" Diaz  and the shooting death the following night of Matthew Acevedo that has led to extensive community protest of police racism and misbehavior Anaheim. It's all too common throughout the Southland.

Police in most of the region do not have a reputation to be proud of. Instead they are known for harassing communities of color, planting drugs and weapons on targets, and getting away with murder. This is true all over the Southland, but particularly in the Los Angeles area, thanks to decades of traditionally brutal and racist policing strategies. Once established as the norm, these strategies and policies are very hard to change.

With the killing of Manny Diaz on Saturday, the people of the neighborhood where he was slain rose up in protest, protest which has continued intermittently ever since. The police initially responded with "less lethal" weapons and loosed a dog on the crowd on Saturday, injuring several and threatening many. They claim that the dog release was an inexplicable "accident" and have apologized for the attack on a woman, her baby, and a man who tried to protect them. They have said they will pay for any medical costs involved with treating the injuries caused by the dog, not for injuries caused by projectiles fired at the protesters. Those injuries were apparently justified because the police claim that people in the crowd were throwing "bottles and possibly rocks" at the police. "Thrown objects" -- including bottles and rocks as well as feces and urine -- have become the standard excuse of police forces everywhere in the country for the firing of munitions against crowds; the evidence of such object throwing is scanty at best, and at least sometimes in the case of Occupy, such object throwing (which has been very rare when it has happened at all, though to hear the police complaining, it is a constant barrage of objects) is not uncommonly thought to be the work of provocateurs masquerading as "black bloc." It is widely assumed that the police themselves are inciting their own riots, in other words.

On the other hand, people are justifiably angry at the continuing oppression and slaughter by police in their community, slaughter that occurs without any accountability. This is part of the reason why police are so often so disrespected in our society. You simply cannot have a civil society with a police force that behaves so much like corrupt gangsters running wild, murdering and assaulting with impunity. There have been so many incidents over the last few years, in so many different places, of police behaving badly, that it is hard to attribute it to anything but policy from the top.

Demands from the people of civil authorities that this behavior stop are heard constantly, and yet in most cases, nothing substantive is done beyond the hearing. The absence of police accountability and any substantive correction of police misbehavior tends to reinforce the belief that police actions are being directed from the top and are not somehow aberrational.

Anaheim officials, perhaps to their credit, have asked for independent investigations of the recent shootings. They have simultaneously promised a fierce crackdown on the continued protests as well as "full transparency" of the investigations of the shootings.

The community isn't buying it, and it wouldn't surprise me if the protests continue and increase in size over the next few days and weeks.

Manny Diaz wasn't armed; he was essentially trapped in a side yard when he was shot. According to witnesses, he was shot first in the buttocks and he fell to his knees. When he didn't immediately put his hands behind his back -- which was likely difficult if not impossible for him to do -- he was shot in the head. His back was to the police.

Matthew Acevedo was also shot in the back while running away. The police claim he fired at officers, and a picture of a gun between the legs of the dead man was shown by police to prove that Acevedo fired first. But it's hard to take such a picture at face value. The placement of the gun itself is suspicious as hell. It looks planted.

Tim Pool was on scene in Anaheim last night, documenting some of what went on. He tended to stay behind the police lines so very little of the crowd is shown in his videos. His uplink connection was pretty bad much of the time too, so a good deal of what he shows from behind the lines is choppy and pixelated as heck.

Nevertheless, even though he was showing his press pass, he and a colleague were fired upon repeatedly by police last night as were a number of other media people.

At one point, however, he did show the wounds that one woman had sustained: three nasty looking round red marks, one of which was bleeding. One of the wounds was to her knee, one to the back of her upper thigh, and the bleeding one was on her upper calf. According to witnesses, all of the wounds that they saw last night were sustained to the backs of people running away.

He documents the fact that he saw rocks being thrown and saw one rock hit a cameraman near him. He said he heard glass smashing on the pavement and saw broken glass he assumed was from a glass bottle thrown from the crowd. He said he saw a bottle full of water thrown from the crowd as well. So far as I could tell from his videos, however, these thrown objects did not land on or particularly near the police -- but I could only tell that because they didn't seem to react to any of the thrown objects. I did not see anyone in Tim's videos throwing things.

The police issued repeated dispersal orders which were lustily booed by the crowd -- I would estimate it at a few hundred. The police started firing their "less-lethal" munitions when the crowd was chanting loudly for justice. The crowd scattered but did not disperse immediately. The police kept firing and advancing on the crowd, but the people were quite a distance from the police after the first volley and it isn't clear that the police actually hit anyone with their munitions after the first few shots.

Tim documented fires in dumpsters and in alleys, as well as broken windows and arrests. The two young men he saw arrested at a shopping center were, he said, skateboarders he'd seen earlier. He had no idea why they were being arrested, and one of them said to the police that he had been shopping for groceries at the Von's market.

Other reports had it that skateboarders had broken windows at a Starbucks and another business in the center, but there was no confirmation.

From Tim's reports, it sounded like the police were literally hunting down anyone on the street and firing their weapons at them. And Tim repeatedly said that the police were firing indiscriminately into the crowds.

What's been happening in Anaheim has been characterized as a "riot" but from Tim's videos at any rate, it is anything but that. It has been a loud and militant protest that has included a certain amount of vandalism and rock-throwing. For the most part, however, the crowds have been large, angry, loud and mostly non-violent. The police on the other hand have been far more numerous than warranted, aggravating and instigating.

The people are fed up. Too many people have been harassed, too many people have been killed, too many concerns have gone unaddressed and ignored. The people need more -- much more -- than a hearing; they need to see demonstrable change in the behavior of police in Anaheim and throughout the Southland -- especially toward the Hispanic community, now a majority in Anaheim, and young people.

This is a very difficult matter for civic authorities to deal with. When they are confronted with the fury of people who have been wronged, they nearly always try to find ways to justify and perpetuate the wrong-doing rather than fix it. More often than not -- at least until recently -- they have been successful. How much longer they can be successful at stamping out community militance and protest is subject to doubt.

There is a spirit of revolt in the land that I don't think is going away any time soon. Incidents like the killings in Anaheim can easily trigger even greater levels of revolt and rebellion.

When people are pushed to the limit, there is little Authority can do about the results.


 Last night LA news media was camping out around Anaheim to bring us live real time coverage of the "riots." Police in riot gear were "everywhere."

There was no "riot," not even any significant protest.

Manny Diaz's mother filed a $50,000,000 lawsuit against the city of Anaheim and the Anaheim Police Department, and she requested that protesters cease any sort of violence in respect for her son's memory. It would appear she has a great deal more moral authority in Anaheim than all the officials and their police combined.

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