Anaheim police on a rampage

July 24, 2012

Danielle Hawkins reports from Anaheim, Calif., on a horrific police murder--and the angry resistance that this latest killing produced among Latino residents.

WHAT SHOULD have been a relaxing Saturday afternoon for the residents of an East Side apartment complex in Anaheim, Calif., instead turned into a nightmare on July 21.

Neighbors watched in horror as Anaheim police first shot Manuel Diaz in the back of his leg--and then executed him with a bullet to the head in their courtyard around 4 p.m.

But the Anaheim Police Department didn't stop with the murder of Diaz. They proceeded to terrorize residents who gathered to confront the cops about the murder they had just witnessed. Police responded by opening fire with rubber bullets and tear gas at a crowd that included young children.

Video footage of the police assault shocked people around the world and prompted continuing protests in Anaheim, including several reported occupations of police stations.

Then, in the early morning hours of Monday, July 23, the Anaheim cops killed again a few miles away--shooting a man they claimed had stolen an SUV. A police spokesman said someone in the stolen vehicle shot at officers, who returned fire--but the resident of an apartment next to where the killing took place said she heard five consecutive gunshots, not an exchange of gunfire.

Anaheim police unleash terror on community members protesting a police murder
Anaheim police unleash terror on community members protesting a police murder

There were plenty of witnesses to the cops' earlier murder--it took place in broad daylight on July 21 as residents of the apartment complex were out on the lawn. A video posted on the OC Weekly website shows the cops standing around Manuel Diaz after he was shot in the head and preventing anyone from helping him.

"He was already down on the ground and clearly not going anywhere when the officer shot him in the head," an eyewitness said in an interview the next day. "They didn't have to kill him. Why couldn't they have just used a Taser or something?" Another witness to the police killing said it took 45 minutes to get an ambulance to the scene, and nobody was rushing to get the victim medical attention even after the ambulance arrived. Diaz died at a hospital later that evening.

Mari, a young woman from the neighborhood, said she, like other residents, knew Diaz well. "He was a really, really good guy," she said. "He was friendly and would say hi to everyone. I often saw him picking up trash, keeping things clean. He didn't have a home, so he stayed in a bunch of different apartments around here. Everyone liked him."

As the police presence at the apartment complex continued, more and more residents showed up to protest the murder. The cops claim the crowd started throwing rocks and bottles at them. Witnesses to the confrontation deny this, but no one denies what happened next--the police moved against defenseless protesters, firing pepper spray and rubber bullets.

Shocking video of the police attack, aired on KCAL News, not only shows police officers opening fire on the unsuspecting crowd, but an officer releasing a police dog on a young woman, Susan Lopez, and her one-month old baby. After biting at Lopez's arm, the dog lunges for another young man and his child as the child's stroller goes flying. The man holds up his arm to protect his young child, and you can see the dog bite him as people try to restrain it.

THE NEXT day, residents of the Latino neighborhood where Diaz was shot were still reeling from shock and disgust as they gathered near the scene of the murder. Young men and women pointed to the still-visible blood on the lawn where Diaz had been executed. Others placed candles near a makeshift altar.

"People think: Today he got shot, tomorrow, it could be me. Who's next?" said Mari. "That's why people want to do something."

A young man, Eddie, added: "Yeah, they want us to be intimidated, but they're not going to intimidate us."

People who were there when the cops opened fire the night before reported that multiple people had been injured from the rubber bullets, including a 13-year-old who fainted from the injury while onlookers tried desperately to get him medical attention.

Jose Aguilar, the father of Susan Lopez, who was attacked by the police dog along with her infant child, was one of the people swept up in the assault. He was arrested and is being held on trumped-up charges, with bail reportedly set at $50,000.

By midday, protesters had gathered at the Anaheim Police Station to express their outrage. They marched into the building to demand answers, chanting "No justice, no peace" and "Justice for Manuel."

The two police killings in Anaheim last weekend are the latest in what residents describe as a dramatic increase in officer-related shootings--there have been six already this year, said protesters.

Some of the people who gathered at the police station on Sunday have been organizing to bring attention to the cops' violence. Two groups, Anaheim's Cruzaders and Kelly's Army, were formed to bring attention to the police shooting of Caesar Cruz in 2009 and the brutal beating death of Kelly Thomas in 2011 in nearby Fullerton. Theresa Smith, Caesar Cruz's mother, has been organizing weekly vigils for the last two years in front of the police department to get justice for her son, a father of five.

At the Sunday protest, Susan Lopez was still visibly shaken from being attacked the night before by the police dog--and worried about her father-in-law Jose Aguilar, who was still behind bars.

"After yesterday, I lost all respect for the police," Lopez said. "The police attacked innocent women and children with rubber bullets and a dog. The dog attacked me and my baby, and then went after another man who had a small child. What they did was awful! How far are they going to go?"

Another young man who lives nearby, Abel Lopez, came out to the protest after hearing about what happened. "They think they can just come into our neighborhoods and shoot people," he said. "We're outraged about the lack of justice. The police are supposed to be here to protect us, but they are hurting us. They think they can get away with treating communities of minorities this way."

The killings in Anaheim are another example of the police abuse and violence that low-income and minority communities are subjected to on a daily basis across this country.

But Anaheim is also an example of resistance. Residents who have been organizing for the last two years against Anaheim killer cops can come together with others who want an end to police brutality and provide support to help the latest victims bring their stories to light--and organize to get justice.

Sarah Knopp contributed to this article.

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