Letter from the United States: Public fights back after police murders

Police shot and killed a 25-year-old Latino man, Manuel Diaz, in Anaheim, California, in his front yard on July 21 Diaz was not armed.

Within hours of the murder, hundreds of angry residents took to the streets in protest. The cops attacked the demonstrators with clubs, pepper spray and bean bag bullets.

One protester was grabbed by a cop (who had his hand on his gun) for carrying a protest sign as he was walking toward the demonstration. He was charged with “jaywalking.”

Among the protesters was a mother with her children. The police unleashed an attack dog on her as she huddled over her children to protect them. The incident was caught on video, which showed the dog ripping into the woman.

A makeshift memorial in front of the yard where Diaz died included many pointed messages: “Anaheim police is death squad” and “Beware of the cops, they kill our kids, you might be next” were among them.

The next day the cops shot and killed another young Latino. They claimed the victim was an armed burglary suspect who ran away from them.

A few days later, more than 1000 protesters showed up at a City Council meeting, and the cops attacked again, arresting two dozen.

Protests have continued. Police have responded with what they call a “zero-tolerance” policy against any city code violations, like “loitering”.

A New York Times reporter, Jennifer Medina, was in the Latino community a few days after the murders. “These shootings have exposed deep fury” in the city, she wrote on July 28.

The reporter was on the street where Diaz was gunned down when she witnessed a police patrol car pass slowly by.

The car crawled by “a young mother buying her children ice cream and a small group of young men gathered on the sidewalk. Both groups shouted at the car: ‘Get out of here,’ ‘What’s your badge number?’ and ‘Shame on you.’

“The patrol car didn’t stop, nor did another that came by about 15 minutes later….

“ After all that [the shootings], what are they even doing?’ said Ricardo Hurado, 21, who grew up in the area, as he watched the second police car pass by. ‘They can’t think they’re welcome here. Nobody wants to see them. It’s like they want to make us more mad.’”

Anaheim is mainly known for being the site of one of the Disneyland parks. But it has another side.

Its 340,000 residents are largely working class, and more than half are Latino. Unemployment is high.

Medina said that “many young people in the neighborhood have been unable to find work for months at a time. In some cases a juvenile criminal record is another strike against them.”

“Young men here say they have been stopped by officers more times than they can count,” Medina noted, “often, they say, for doing nothing more than walking down the street….

“We get harassed all the time, just for the way we look and hanging out,” 23-year-old Rafael Brito, who grew up with Diaz, told the NYT. “As soon as they see you, they’re ready to pull their gun and start asking you what gang you’re with and what they call you. They do it all day every day.”

Many activists blame the city council, whose members are largely from the eastern hills on the city’s edge — the wealthiest and least populated part of town. The council has focused exclusively on development in the resort area around Disneyland at the expense of the city’s working class neighborhoods.

Only three Latinos have ever been elected to the council. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has filed a suit against the city for rigging the voting system to keep Latinos off the council.

The ACLU also cites a study that found the wealthier area has more parks, libraries, fire stations and community centers than any other part of the city.

Just as the huge police harassment of Blacks and Latinos in New York City I reported in last week's column are indicative of practices in cities across the country, so are police killings of minorities. Most are hardly reported.

It’s only when Blacks and Latinos fight back, like they have in Anaheim, that the national media takes any notice.

[Barry Sheppard was a long-time leader of the US Socialist Workers Party and the Fourth International. He recounts his experience in the SWP in a two-volume book, The Party — the Socialist Workers Party 1960-1988, available from Resistance Books. Read more of Sheppard's articles.]