Families rally for the victims

August 7, 2013

Michael Brown reports on a march and rally that brought together families of police murder from around California.

LAST YEAR, the national spotlight was on Anaheim, Calif.--home of Disneyland, the "Happiest Place on Earth"--with the release of a video showing members of the Anaheim Police Department (APD) attacking a working-class Latino neighborhood.

On July 21, 2012, the AHP shot and killed Manuel Diaz as he lay wounded on the ground. Then the police turned on the crowd gathered at the East Side apartment complex, firing rubber bullets and bean bags, and letting loose a police dog.

Video footage of the police assault shocked people around the world and prompted more protests in Anaheim. And this brutality was hardly an isolated incident--as an estimated seven men were killed by Anaheim cops in 2011 and 2012.

Local residents continued organizing. Over the last year, activists organized protests, marches, vigils and speak-outs at the City Council, which were led by Anaheim families as well as allies from surrounding cities, many of whom have also had loved ones killed by cops.

The family-led fightback was on full display on July 21 during a march and rally of nearly a thousand people in front of APD headquarters, where more than 30 families and dozens of organizations from nearly every region of California convened to commemorate the one-year anniversary of the uprising.

Anaheim community members mourn the toll of police violence
Anaheim community members mourn the toll of police violence (Greg Silva)

"That was his only crime: to run from someone he didn't know," said Genevieve Huizar, discussing her son Manuel Angel Diaz, who was killed last year by APD officer Nick "Buckshot" Bennallack.

Diaz, 25, was the first of back-to-back killings that took place on July 21, 2012. A day after he was killed, 21-year-old Joel Acevedo was killed by APD's Kelly Phillips, one of three cops on the force who has killed multiple people.

Some of the endorsers of the July 21 march and rally included the United Survivors of Anaheim, Nida's Rydas (Los Angeles), Justice 4 Alan Blueford Coalition, Kenneth Harding Foundation, Oscar Grant Foundation, Justice for Aiyana Jones Committee and Answer Los Angeles, which facilitated the commemoration.

AFTER A march from City Hall to APD headquarters, representatives of family after family took turns and spoke atop a flatbed truck, detailing the murders and sharing personal stories of the deceased.

Jeralynn Blueford, mother of Alan Blueford Jr., who was killed after being racially profiled by Oakland police officer Miguel Masso in May 2012, told the audience:

My baby is not here, he can't use his voice. But guess what? I can. I got my feet and my fists! My name is Jeralynn Blueford, I'm from Oakland, California, and I'm fighting for all the families. Stand up and fight!

Joel's mother, Donna Acevedo, who found out a few days before the event that Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas had found Phillips' killing of her son "justified," despite many questions still unanswered, read a prepared statement.

She talked about the continued "whitewash" of the events around her son's murder, City Council members serving at the behest of Disneyland and developers, the need for a citizens review board with "teeth," and the continued culture of resistance in Anaheim's working-class neighborhoods, which includes filming the police.

A quick glance at what's transpired during the past year in Anaheim underscores what Donna described. The DA's office has rubber-stamped every APD shooting, including three this year. Even in instances where there are numerous witnesses to dispute a police officer's version of events, as was the case of Martin A. Hernandez, killed by officer Dan Hurtado in early 2012, the fix is in.

For instance, after Hernandez was killed in front of numerous people in his neighborhood, police interviewed 60 witnesses, but only two interviews were included in the DA's final report--the ones that cleared Hurtado of "criminal culpability."

THE CITY Council, which has gained a reputation among some locals as a cash cow for Disney and other private developers, who all have a penchant for using public funds, has done nothing to alter perceptions. Council members, mostly residents from the nearby affluent Anaheim Hills, gave developers $158 million in corporate-welfare subsidies in May for the construction of two luxury hotels.

The Anaheim Hills cabal has also continued to resist an ACLU lawsuit filed last year on behalf of residents challenging the at-large voting system, a potential violation of the California Voting Rights Act.

In addition to Anaheim's families, family members of those murdered such as Ernest Duenez Jr. (killed by Manteca PD); James Earl Rivera Jr. (Stockton PD); Michael Lee Nida II (Downey PD) and Oscar Grant (BART police) also spoke, among others.

Signs and shirts displaying the picture of Trayvon Martin were in abundance during the event. Huizar made the connection between the killing of her son and Martin:

They're being profiled just by the color of their skin. Trayvon Martin couldn't go buy some Skittles and walk home because he had a hoodie on, because it was raining. Manuel was racially profiled also, being called a gang member. They are the victims, but they make the victims the criminals when it's the cops that are doing the murders.

The recent organizing in Anaheim against police terror began in large part with Theresa Smith, the mother of Caesar Cruz, killed by APD in 2009. Two days after her son was killed, Smith began protesting in front of APD headquarters. Her efforts helped lay the basis for a coalition of working-class families in southern California to join and fight collectively.

Dubbed the "Justice Warriors," this racially diverse group of families and activists linked up with families from central and northern California in April for a first-ever, statewide conference against police terror in Oxnard, an hour north of downtown Los Angeles.

Following the event in Anaheim, plans are already underway for a family-led march on Sacramento scheduled to coincide with October 22, a day where protests are held nationwide against police brutality.

For information about future Southern California protests, visit the calendar section at the Nida's Rydas website.

John Osmand contributed to this article.

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