Anaheim Cracks Down as Police Shootings Set Off Protests

by Jennifer Medina
NY Times, July 25, 2012

ANAHEIM, Calif. — Violent protests have stretched on through the week here after unrelated police shootings over the weekend left two men dead, including one who was apparently unarmed.

Even before the shootings, there were tensions between residents and the police. On Tuesday, the crowds that gathered near City Hall grew to nearly 1,000 people, and were dispersed by officers in riot gear.

As the City Council prepared to hear from angry residents on Tuesday, the fourth night of protest, the crowd swelled to nearly 1,000, and there were two dozen arrests, officials said Wednesday.

On Wednesday night, with an increased police presence, there were no immediate reports of arrests, and there were few protesters.

The protests have shaken up this Orange County city, most famous as the home of Disneyland. Tensions between the police and residents, which have simmered for years, broke out shortly after Manuel Diaz, 25, was shot and killed by the police on Saturday.

On Tuesday, as hundreds of people packed City Hall for a City Council meeting, a crowd outside grew in size and became violent, throwing rocks and bottles at police cars. One man reportedly had a handgun and was later arrested.

A short while later, the demonstrators moved through downtown, taking over an intersection, setting fires and damaging 20 businesses, officials said. Looters broke several storefront windows, and in at least one incident a fight broke out when an older resident tried to stop a young woman stealing from a store window.

The police declared the gathering an unlawful assembly around 9 p.m., and some 300 officers in riot gear used batons, pepper balls and beanbag bullets to disperse the crowd.

At a news conference on Wednesday, Mayor Tom Tait, who has asked for state and federal investigations into the shootings, said he was pleased with the police response.

“The first step is to get to the truth,” Mr. Tait said. “That takes some time and patience, and that’s what I’m asking for.”

“Violence and vandalism have no place in the conversation,” he added.

Chief John Welter of the Anaheim Police Department said it would review videos posted on the Internet to find “lawbreakers in the crowd.”

“We will not allow riotous, dangerous violations of the law by anyone,” Mr. Welter said. “We will protect innocent people from being injured and property from being damaged.”

Officials said they had contingency plans in place for the rest of the week in case of more violent protests, but they would not elaborate.

Six people, including one police officer said to have been hit with a rock, were reported injured, although none seriously. The charges against those arrested included assault with a deadly weapon, battery and resisting arrest.

The police said they believed roughly two-thirds of the protesters were from outside Anaheim. But the majority of those arrested were city residents, they said.

Mr. Tait said he would meet with federal officials, who have agreed to review Saturday’s shooting to see whether a civil rights inquiry is needed. The district attorney and state attorney general are also investigating the shootings.

The family of Mr. Diaz, the first of the two men killed by the police, filed a lawsuit on Tuesday, asserting that he was unarmed when he was shot, fell to his knees and then was shot again, in the back of the head.

“In a poor brown neighborhood, the kids, especially the boys, know to avoid the police, because it never ends well,” said Dana Douglas, a lawyer for the Diaz family.

Genevieve Huizar, Mr. Diaz’s mother, broke down after a news conference. She spoke of her son’s devoted care for his 14 nieces and nephews and his dreams of making his own family. When he told her he wanted to join the military, she strongly objected, she said.

“I didn’t want him to go over there and die,” she said, choking back tears. “Maybe I should have let him and everything would be different. Only God knows.”

Both the mayor and police chief have declined to offer any public explanation of the shooting, but Kerry Condon, the president of the Anaheim Police Association, has said that Mr. Diaz appeared to be carrying a “concealed object in his front waistband with both hands,” and that he ran off, pulled the object out of his waistband and turned to the officers.

“Feeling that Diaz was drawing a weapon, the officer opened fire on Diaz to stop the threat,” Mr. Condon said. No gun has been recovered from the site.

The other man killed by the police, Joel Mathew Acevedo, 21, was shot after officers tried to stop his car on Sunday. The police say that he tried to flee on foot and that he then opened fire on them. The police said that both Mr. Acevedo and Mr. Diaz were gang members with criminal records.

There have been six shootings by Anaheim police officers so far this year, all but one fatal.