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Ferguson protests evoke memories for Anaheim residents

The protests taking place in a St. Louis suburb following the police shooting of an unarmed black man have evoked memories in Anaheim. In 2012, the killing of two Latino men set off protests.  Since then, the city has taken a new approach to policing and politics. 

The 2012 Anaheim protests were triggered after 25-year old Manuel Diaz was shot two years ago on Anna Drive, a mostly Latino, Spanish-speaking neighborhood on July 21. A day later, another Latino man, Joel Acevedo, 21, was fatally shot by the police. 

Authorities say he shot at them first and they found a gun on him after. The officers involved in the shootings were cleared of any criminal wrongdoing.

As the unrest in Ferguson continues to unfold, there may be lessons in Anaheim's experience of protests and riots, which spurred city leaders to institute some police reforms and a potential change to the city's political structure, which is largely white and affluent representing half of the citizenry, which are working class Latino communities.

Among the reforms:

  • The city has committed to hiring 10 officers annually over the next four years and the police department has assigned community officers, specifically assigned to neighborhoods to build relationships.
  • Uniformed officers are required to use digital audio recording devices during all encounters with the public. Undercover or plainclothes officers are exempted.
  • The Anaheim police department has increased police foot patrols.
  • Community police programs such as "Coffee with a Cop" and "Cops for Kids" have been launched.
  • The chief introduced a neighborhood advisory council with 22 civilian neighborhood representatives to voice concerns once a month on crime and policing problems in their areas.

Most of the reforms were introduced by the Anaheim Police Department. When the city's police chief retired ten months after the protests, the city promoted a Latino, Spanish-speaking Anaheim officer, Raul Quezada who declared police community engagement a priority.

“Every radio call, every contact — I just don’t want my officers to handle the call,” Quezada said. “I want them to interact with the community and share information about the department, our various programs and again just strengthening our relationship with the community.”  

Building ties with the community

In 2013, the year after the shootings occurred, Anaheim Police Department was down 60 officers from a high of 403 officers on the force in 2008. Chief Quezada said the low staffing made it hard to build relationships with residents.

The city is currently in the midst of creating a civilian public safety board to review the department’s budget and police shootings.  Though critics say the board lacks real investigative authority.

The height of the unrest in Anaheim happened after angry residents marched to City Hall determined to speak to the city council about the back-to-back shootings. When they arrived, they were met by a police line decked in riot gear, who told them they would have to wait outside the chamber until more room was made available inside the crowded room. 

Furious and feeling ignored, people unleashed their frustration on a strip mall across from City Hall. Looters smashed store windows and set trashcans on fire.

Anaheim police responded by posting officers, dressed in camouflage and armed with rifles, on top of roof buildings and perched upon military-type police tanks. Since then, Quezada said he changed the APD SWAT uniform to a solid green. He wanted to lose the perception that police officers had morphed into the military.

Jaime Regalado, a Professor Emeritus of Political Science at California State University, Los Angeles said the police shootings helped ignite the 2012 protests, but they weren't the sole reason for them.

“Usually [it] sparks something additional,” Regalado said. “That long list of grievances of being ignored, oppressed, not having a voice, not being represented in the political structures.”

Getting city government to look like its city

Anaheim's population is 27.5 percent white and 52.8 percent Latino, according to the 2010 Census. But all four of the city council members, and the mayor, are white and most live in the more affluent neighborhoods of Anaheim Hills.

The ACLU filed a lawsuit against the city alleging Latino residents were underrepresented in the current city election system, one month before the July 2012 police shootings and riots. The city settled the suit this year and agreed to leave it up to voters to decide if the city should create council districts.

Voters will get to choose this November whether they want to change their voting system from electing city council members at-large to electing them by districts. That means council candidates would have to live in the districts they want to represent. The mayor would continue to be elected citywide.

Donna Acevedo, whose son was shot and killed by Anaheim police on July 22, 2012, threw herself into city politics after her son’s death. She protested, met with the new police chief to ask for reforms and started paying attention to what city council was doing. She was hoping people who joined her in protests and calling for change would consider becoming city leaders.  

“I kept waiting and I’m like, ‘well, who’s going to represent me,” Acevedo said. “Who am I going to vote for? There’s no one worth voting for. So then I thought, you know what, I’ll vote for myself.”

Acevedo is now running for Anaheim City Council in the upcoming November elections. She admits she’s not your typical campaigning and fundraising candidate but says she as long as she feels the city is not trying hard enough to change – she has a responsibility to run.

The city and police have focused more attention on the neighborhoods near Anna Drive and Guinida Lane since the police shootings took place there. But Acevedo says there are neighborhoods like them all over Anaheim. To ignore them, she says, would be forgetting what happened in 2012.   

Correction: An earlier version of this story stated that most of the city council members live in Anaheim Hills.  Currently, two Anaheim city council members live in Anaheim Hills. KPCC also reported a jewelry store suffered $25,000 in damage during the 2012 riot.  The damages were incurred by a different store in the strip mall. The story also reported Anaheim's population as half white, half Latino, according to the 2010 Census.  It is 27.5 percent white and 52.8 percent Latino. KPCC deeply regrets the errors.