A Brief History of Anaheim's Riots, Protests and Grand Funk Railroad Free-for-All

Then and now, the Reg had a hard-on for the sheriff haha
Then and now, the Reg had a hard-on for the sheriff haha
Santa Ana Register archives

By now, you've heard about the Feb. 27 rally by the Ku Klux Klan at Pearson Park in Anaheim that turned into a Klan beatdown (and if you haven't, ya gotta follow us on Facebook and Twitter, kids!). Reporters have descended upon the city to figure out how such ugliness could afflict the Disney town—just as they did in 2012, when riots in that city made international headlines.

See a pattern? More than any city in Orange County, Anaheim has attracted protests and violent actions just as Mission Viejo attracts MILFs. Only Huntington Beach's fabled surf riots come close to the surreal melees that pop up every couple of years, from concert free-for-alls to pro- and anti-segregation rallies to Disneyland everything.

Why Anaheim? Easy: It's a working-class town, one ready to voice its displeasure when the times aren't right. It's also OC's crossroads, hosting the Anaheim Convention Center, Angel Stadium, Honda Center and the House of Mouse and intersected by the 5, 91 and 57 freeways—great backdrops to chaos. Anyhoo, enjoy, and don't act surprised when the next rampage happens; we warned you.

1924: The Ku Klux Klan organized an initiation ceremony attended by more than 30,000 at what's now Pearson Park; to this day, it remains one of the largest KKK rallies in American history. A 30-foot cross was lit, and biplanes flew above, lighted from underneath so they appeared as crosses floating in the sky.

1936: Two hundred Mexican women gathered in orange groves on the corner of what's now Helena and Santa Ana streets to convince naranjeros to drop their shears and strike. Twenty Anaheim police officers confronted the mujeres, but they refused to disperse. At some point, there was an altercation, and 29-year-old Placentia resident Virginia Torres bit the arm of Anaheim police officer Roger Sherman. Police arrested Torres, along with 30-year-old Epifania Marquez, who tried to yank a strikebreaker—a scab—from a truck by grabbing onto his suspenders. Thus began the Citrus War, one of the most brutally suppressed yet little-chronicled strikes in Southern California history. Later on, further skirmishes in Anaheim and other orange-grove-heavy cities led then-Sherrif Logan Jackson to issue the infamous order "Shoot to kill," with the Santa Ana Register printing it on the front page as a warning to any uppity Mexicans.

1947: Labor organizer Emilio Martinez and others gather at Pearson Park to protest the park's policy of allowing Mexicans into just one portion of the park and forbidding Mexicans from swimming in the pool except on the day before it would be drained. "They were putting us in a corner of [Pearson] Park, in a wire-enclosed corral," Martinez remembered in a 1989 interview. "Like animals, like beasts . . . like cows to the corral." As for the pool, Martinez said, "The only people who went into that dirty water were people without shame."

You'll never look the same at boysenberries again...
You'll never look the same at boysenberries again...

Martinez and others challenged the segregation by walking into the white section of Pearson Park. Rudolph Boysen—Anaheim's park superintendent at the time and the originator of the boysenberry—approached him and asked what business Martinez had there. "I'm taking care of the Mexicans because you're running them out with sticks in your hand like animals," Martinez replied. Boysen had him arrested on the spot. A lawsuit eventually desegregated the park.

1961: A rally is held at Glover Stadium in La Palma Park by the Orange County School of Anti-Communism, a red-baiting machine whose members included Walter Knott and the Reverend Robert A. Schuller and whose paranoia set the stage for our modern-day conservatism. The group convinced the county's school districts to bus more than 7,000 high-schoolers to Glover, so they could hear speech after speech about the evils of communism disguised as liberalism. Students there would grow up and intend to vote for Donald Trump.

1970: More than 10,000 fans cram into the Anaheim Convention Center to hear Grand Funk Railroad. About 500 people are left outside and begin throwing rocks and bottles at more than 300 police officers. At least 50 arrests were made while the center's windows were smashed; Grand Funk Railroad played on.

Oh, for the days of the Yippies...
Oh, for the days of the Yippies...
Long Beach Independent headline

Also that year, more than 300 yippies descend on Disneyland to celebrate the International Yippie Pow-Wow. They do a smoke-in at Tom Sawyer Island and begin to sing Country Joe and the Fish's "Fuck Cheer" on Main Street, only to be drowned out by 700 Disneyland guests singing "God Bless America." Soon after, the yippies attempt to snake dance, per the Long Beach Independent, at which point park officers told them to leave. "We're going to the Bank of America," a yippie yelled. Disneyland officials tire of them and unleash more than 100 riot officers who had been waiting all day for this and push them out of the park, where 300 additional cops wait to bash their heads in.

Emigdio Vasquez's mural commemorating the 1978 Little People's Park riot
Emigdio Vasquez's mural commemorating the 1978 Little People's Park riot
Jennie Warren

1978: Police interrupt a picnic at Little People's Park after reports of gunshots. The officers start roughing up attendees, people begin throwing rocks at them, and the police respond by beating people up and invading their homes. The Little People's Park Riot, as it would be called, leads to years of investigations and a report by the Orange County grand jury that found excessive force.

1984: Striking Disneyland workers defy a court order to stay away from the park. The 150 people are followed by security guards, who keep reciting the court order. Leaders for five Disneyland unions and an AFL-CIO official march up to the ticket windows; they're arrested.

1991: Students stage a walkout at Savanna High School after the principal decides to phase out the school's use of the Confederate flag (the school's teams are named the Rebels). One of the organizers tells the Orange County Register that the school's Black Student Union "gripe[s] about little things." The flag remains up through the 1990s.

The scene on Feb. 27
The scene on Feb. 27
Eric Hood

2001: Anti-immigrant activists protest outside City Hall to whine about how the police department planned to accept Mexican matricula consular cards as a form of identification. They are met by counterprotesters; hilarity ensues. Both of those groups are, in turn, protested against by a third group of activists across the street demanding peace. Among other highlights that day: an African-American pastor going around and asking women if they had ever slept with a Mexican; he'd go on to mistake me for an Asian and call me "Jap" and "Flip."

2003: Police and fire officials raid legendary Latin nightclub JC Fandango during a concert by Mexican ska sensations Inspector. They say the venue is over its legal capacity. Water bottles and other debris meet owner Javier Castellanos when he appears onstage to declare the show over. Rockeros who wanted refunds then loitered outside JC Fandango despite police orders to leave. Some began the immortal rockero chant "cu-le-ro" ("asshole"). After that got tiresome, they modified the words—but not the tone—of the chant to include "puer-co" ("pig"), "di-ne-ro" ("money"), "des-ma-dre" and—bizarrely—"¡Sí, se puede!" The Orange County Register suggests Castellanos might spend six months in prison for breaking the law; he never serves a day.

Image from our 2010 cover story on the Disneyland hotel workers struggle
Image from our 2010 cover story on the Disneyland hotel workers struggle
Photo by John Gilhooley

2008: More than 1,000 people march in support of Disneyland hotel workers, eventually occupying the intersection of Katella Avenue and Harbor Boulevard. About 28 people are arrested, many dressed as Disney characters. A picture of Mickey Mouse being dragged off in handcuffs goes viral.

Anaheim riots
Anaheim riots
Photo by Matt Oliver

2012: After two consecutive nights of officer-involved shootings, more than 1,000 people descend upon City Hall for a City Council meeting. When not enough people can get in, protesters clash with police in a riot that spreads across downtown. At one point during the uprising, Disneyland's fireworks erupt in the sky—the greatest moment in Orange County history.


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