As the one-year anniversary of the officer-involved killing of 25-year-old Manuel Diaz in July approaches, Anaheimers filed into St. Anthony Claret Catholic Church last night to see what, if anything, has changed in the city. The East Street Community Renewal Initiative (ESCRI)--a project of former councilwoman Lorri Galloway's Eli Home--played host to the "Voices of the Community" forum held in a church hall just around the corner from Anna Drive, site of Diaz's killing.
About 150 chairs were set up inside the hall. Most of them laid empty, though, as only forty-five people or so showed up for the event co-moderated by Galloway and Los Amigos president (and Weekly Scariest Person nominee) Jose Moreno.
The evening set out to address three key points: police relations, community needs and positive changes. Each person was allotted three minutes to speak in the bilingual forum. Yesenia Rojas, an Anna Drive resident who has gained national exposure for her activism in her barrio, was one of the speakers during the police part.
"What happened to the police officer that let go of the dog?" she wondered aloud of the K-9 that attacked the assembled crowd shortly after the Diaz shooting. "What consequences were there for him?"
Another Anna Drive resident recounted her personal experience of domestic violence when a cop arrived on scene. A non-English speaker, she felt that he had blatantly dismissed her; later, only through the intervention of a social worker, the officer ending up apologizing for his conduct.
The needs of the community were discussed next. Anaheim residents spoke of investing in spaces for youth development and providing, in general, more resources for children. Those sentiments blended into the next forum topic dealing with positive changes.
"Many of us saw what happened to Manuel Diaz." said Rojas' daughter Evelyn Vergara as she spoke about creating a community center for teenagers to hang out and do positive activities. "It really hurt us."
As it stands, many younger children play out in the streets or in the courtyards of apartment complexes. An elderly resident said that when Mayor Tom Tait visited Anna Drive last year, neighbors asked about putting speed bumps on the streets as many cars, including police vehicles, drive too fast down them. To date, the small but important improvement still has not been made.
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Galloway, who didn't do much moderating throughout, offered her closing comments as the night came to a close. "We need to let the world know what we think," she said. To that end, the former councilwoman noted that ESCRI would assemble the perspectives of the forum into a document which would, in turn, be delivered to the church, media and mayor. What, if any, effect it will have remains to be seen.
No one from the current city council, including Tait, was in attendance at any point of the event. Neither were there any uniformed police officers present. Perhaps most notably absent, though, were Latino males, the people at the center of last summer's unrest.
Without their crucial participation and engagement, any dialogue is incomplete. The future of Anaheim in the aftermath of its most challenging hour depends on that no longer being the case.