The shooting of unarmed Manuel Diaz by police in Anaheim, California on Saturday has brought a torrent of anger and questions to the surface in an area where the Latino community has a tenuous relationship with those sworn to protect them in the first place.
Diaz was a gang member according to public information officer Sergeant Bob Dunn, of the Anaheim police department and an independent investigation is being conducted by the California Attorney General to figure out what led to Diaz being shot. Two officers are on paid administrative leave following the shooting.
Passions were further inflamed when Joel Acevedo was killed a day later, who police say was a reputed gang member who shot at them. But some say deep distrust exists among Latinos in Anaheim who feel police are too quick to shoot first and worry about the consequences later.
“This has been going on for decades,” says Gustavo Arellano, editor for the OC weekly and NBC Latino contributor, who grew up in the neighborhood. “Bad to horrible relations between the Anaheim police department and the Latino community.”
Arellano points to the Little People’s Park Riots in 1978, where charges of police brutality against the Latino community led to reforms in the Anaheim Police Department and a 1995 lawsuit by whistleblowing police officer Steve Nolan who alleged that officers were beating suspects and falsely accusing Latinos of being gang members.
For many, investigations will shed light on why Diaz was shot by Anaheim police, but won’t change the fact that there have now been eight police-related shootings in 2012 alone, many of whom are Latino.
Cops were also left apologizing for a scary incident where a police canine got loose among a group of Hispanic residents who were complaining about the shooting of Diaz. The dog grabbed a hold of Junior Lagunas and bit his arm with his son nearby in a stroller.
“I want to personally apologize for the police dog incident,” said Police Chief John Welter. “It’s embarrassing to us. The police officer, I’m telling you, was devastated.”
Julia Wallace of Struggles United/Luchas Unidas, says her organization has joined protesters in Anaheim in solidarity for what the working class and Latino residents are going through.
“Billionaires never get dogs sicced on them, they never get shot with rubber bullets,” she says. “Police are absolutely antagonizing the Hispanic community. Young Latino youth are scared of the police and run away from them because they’re scared of what the cops will do and then they get shot.”
For his part, the long-time Anaheim resident Arellano says he understands that the police have a difficult task in front of them.
“The last couple of years there has been a significant surge in crime in Anaheim,” he says. “As somebody who has grown up there my whole life, it’s never been this sketchy. The police do have a job to do and the facts remain to be seen, but this year alone there have been eight of these shootings.”
The sister of Saturday’s victim, Diaz, says the community doesn’t feel safe among the police.
“They’re the people that are supposed to be protecting us,” Lupe Diaz said in a TV interview as she choked back tears.
“But the cops are the ones doing this.”