The writer was on the scene within fourteen hours of the incident interviewing victims, witnesses, and activists.
For a brief moment on the evening of July 21, the people of a small Latino community in Anaheim, Calif., came together, abandoned their fear of the police and fought back in self-defense.
The bourgeois media has attempted to paint the incident as an “unruly riot” and the crowd as “gang members,” but these characterizations could not be further from the truth. A video released by KCAL the night of the incident shows a crowd of working families, mostly women and children, being shot with rubber bullets and bean bags as a vicious dog is unleashed on them by dozens of police officers. Nearly two dozen people were injured and five were arrested during the assault from Anaheim police.
Manuel Diaz, another victim of police terror
The crowd of families, nearly 100 people, had come out to protest the murder of 24-year-old Manuel Diaz, an unarmed man, by Anaheim police just a few hours before.
Manuel Diaz had grown up in the neighborhood and was visiting his friends’ house to help move some furniture when the incident occurred. Police and media in the initial reports have claimed that Manuel was in an alleyway with two other "suspects" when he fled on foot for over a block before being shot in the front courtyard of an apartment complex on the 700 block of North Anna Drive.
But witnesses have come forward to Liberation News and said that this entire story in the press is a fabrication. Crystal Ventura, whose partner was bit by the dog during the assault, was standing outside with her mother and her sister-in-law and witnessed the incident. Ventura told Liberation News: “Manuel was standing in front of an apartment complex. He hopped the fence to the next building and was shot in the buttocks. Then he fell on his knees and they shot him in the head.”
Another resident, Susan Lopez, said, “He was shot from about 10 feet away. He wasn’t being chased and he wasn’t in an alley, he was just standing here.”
A video released anonymously to the OC Weekly shows officers pushing witnesses back and setting up a perimeter as Diaz was still moving. Not one officer is seen attempting to save his life or provide any type of medical attention, even as neighbors shout “He’s still alive!” at the police. Instead, they handcuffed and searched his pockets as he bled to death from the wound to his head. In the final seconds of the video, officers flip him over. His head was covered in blood visible from over 50 feet away.
Racism is police policy, tactics
The police and media have been careful to repeat the word “suspect” ritualistically. But the fact is that there were not two other “suspects” who “got away,” nor was Diaz a “suspect” in any logical sense of the word. This language is intentionally misleading because there was never any crime committed. What the police mean by this word is that Diaz was a young Latino man in a working-class neighborhood. His ethnicity and environment made him a target for the harassment that is a daily occurrence in the neighborhood surrounding North Anna Drive in Anaheim. The police acted as judge, jury and executioner.
Another man from the area and a friend of the victim, Danny Arechiga, told Liberation News: “Police in Anaheim, around here, are always racially profiling us because we’re Hispanic. They pull Hispanic men over here all the time because of the way we look. I’ve nearly been shot multiple times by police in Anaheim and Fullerton.”
With young Black and Latino males a majority of those killed by police, and the disproportionate rates of sentencing, incarceration and capital punishment, the “justice” system in the United States should more aptly be named the “genocide” system. This systemic racism starts with the open policy or tacit tactic of racial profiling practiced by every police department in the U.S.
Racism is deeply rooted in the origins of policing in the United States as the first police departments were originally tasked with harassing slaves on plantations or capturing and returning “fugitive” slaves under the Fugitive Slave Act. Not much has changed as police are still heavily concentrated in the poorest communities to prevent open rebellion through constant intimidation.
Susan Lopez told Liberation News she was harassed by Anaheim police after the shooting as she attempted to walk home around the police cordon when a white male officer said to her in a hostile tone, “Hola.” She responded by saying that she could speak English perfectly and the cop simply laughed at her.
And when the system of harassment and intimidation breaks down due to unafraid workers and bereaved loved ones fighting back the cops frequently respond with increased intimidation tactics. One victim who has been very vocal, Yesenia Rojas, told Liberation News: “I know cops are going to come after us. I feel like we need to move because the cops will come back.”
Anaheim fights back
Residents who were tired of constant harassment and outraged at the injustice of Diaz's brutal murder on their block poured into the streets demanding answers from police. Community members were peacefully demonstrating on their front lawns when the police without warning opened fire into the crowd with beanbag shotguns, rubber bullets and pepper-spray bullets.
Junior Lagunas, the young man shown being bitten on the arm by the police dog in the original KCAL footage, described to Liberation News the moments leading up to the confrontation: “One man was walking with his son, a toddler, and was suddenly grabbed from behind by multiple officers. They slammed him against a light pole and then slammed him on the ground and started kicking him. I went to help his son and a few seconds later they started shooting at us without warning and telling us to get down. I had my two-year-old son with me and tipped over his stroller and covered him up on the ground. Right after I handed him off to my wife to get him out of there, I looked up and had to raise my arm to stop the dog from biting me in the face.” Yesenia Rojas, Lagunas's mother, witnessed the violence, ran toward her son and was shot twice with “less-than-lethal” rounds in her arm and abdomen.
Elizabeth Aguilar, 19, was shot in the arm at close range when she lunged forward to strike the dog that had initially charged toward Susan Lopez’s baby inside a stroller just before latching on to Lagunas's forearm. Aguilar's father was shot three times and had to go to the hospital.
In all, more than 15 people were shot, some multiple times, and many people were hurt from inhaling the pepper spray used on the crowd. Lopez told Liberation News, “About five to six victims were children ranging in age from about four to about 13 years old.”
The original footage shows a boy around 12 years old who was carried away by neighbors because he was unable to walk due to a wound to his leg. A young girl under the age of 10 was shot in the face and is believed to have suffered damage to her eye.
Residents at some point responded militantly by lighting a dumpster on fire and throwing an assortment of debris. It is important to understand this response in context howeve,r and not to paint what happened as a “riot.” These actions were in self-defense as the community was assaulted by Anaheim police who have had a history of harassing the neighborhood.
It was a momentary glimpse into the inevitable future outcome of the ongoing police brutality epidemic—rebellion. This very same light flickered when Oscar Grant and Manuel Jamines were murdered as well as the recent response from L.A. residents to repression of the Chalk Walk demonstration.
When the naked injustice and brute force of the state becomes obvious during these incidents, the system itself is exposed and the credibility of its enforcers is undermined to such a degree that people abandon their fear and fight back. History has proven this in southern California alone in Watts, Silverlake, and South Central in 1965, 1967, and 1992, respectively.
In order to quell the increasingly inevitable rebellion, the police in departments around the country resort to attempted cover-ups. Anaheim is no exception despite the fact that they are arguably the least effective department in recent history.
The Anaheim police bribed residents with money for cell phone footage of the incident in an obvious attempt to prevent the facts from coming to light. Community members refused to hand over the footage, and over the next few days we can anticipate the release of more videos that tell the truth.
Anaheim police also visited victims in the hospital. Junior Lagunas told Liberation News, “One of the cops came and tried to tell me that the dog had been let loose on accident but other people from the neighborhood saw them let the dog out of the car.”
All the while, Sgt. Bob Dunn and Chief John Welter of APD have consistently downplayed the facts of the story and recently handed off responsibility for public relations to the district attorney. This move illustrates clearly that the Anaheim police fear any further self-incrimination.
Members of an ad-hoc coalition of families of those murdered by APD and concerned residents who have held weekly demonstrations in Anaheim were on the scene the night of the incident and invited the community for their regular Sunday demonstration at noon. The ANSWER Coalition (Act Now to Stop War and End Racism) and the Party for Socialism and Liberation mobilized for this demonstration along with members of Kelly’s Army (Kelly Thomas, killed by Fullerton Police Department), Nidas Rydas (Mike Nida, killed by Downey Police Department), Occupy Santa Ana, and other organizations from throughout southern California.
At the July 22 protest, a woman who had been shot with rubber bullets by Anaheim police the day before, and the young sisters of a boy mauled by a police dog, led the demonstration of about 50 people into the police headquarters. With the victims and family members bravely facing off against a line of police, protesters chanted “Cowards, shame on you!” They militantly took over the police station for over an hour.
Another killing follows
In a tragic turn of events, yet another resident was killed by Anaheim police at night on July 22. Witnesses say the victim was already detained when he was shot. The community again responded in protest, with about 200 people rallying until about 4 a.m.
More protests are planned in Anaheim in the coming days.
Breaking news: The ANSWER LA office was broken into, ransacked and robbed on the night of July 23 following the Anaheim protests. All of our computers, ten total, were stolen, in addition to all of the sound equipment and bullhorns — the things essential to organizing and conducting protest actions. Please read their full report and make an urgently needed donation to ANSWER LA now.