With organizers of yesterday's statewide anti-police brutality demonstration in Anaheim failing to publicly disclose where exactly it would end up after its City Hall kickoff, a sense of ambiguity lingered in the air. This was especially the case with regards to the question if there was going to be an attempt to take the Harbor Boulevard bridge into Disneyland and show the Mouse up.
With this in mind, friend of the Weekly Duane Roberts and I spent much of the day photographically documenting the positioning of police 'assets' throughout central Anaheim to see what they were up to. First up? Finding the command post!
Back on July 29, 2012, a highly visible, highly militarized police presence was made known to all who dared protest the weekend following a night of riots in the city. The staging ground for all of APD's 'assets' was the public parking lot north of Glover Stadium. When "tone setters" beckoned and the fatal officer-involved shooting of Manuel Angel Diaz was ruled justified this March, Anaheim police took to the same location during the first city council meeting after the fact preparing for any possible civil disturbance.
This time around? Not so much! Well before the 1 p.m. scheduled start of the protest, the homeless of La Palma Park weren't cleared out and the lot was empty. (Although we would later discover tons of cops parked and eating at the nearby Carl's Jr.!) Unlike last year's demonstration, the police presence was not so easily visible and this was the first sign of that. Roberts, who methodically publishes the Anaheim Investigator Blog, had an idea.
After checking out the Anaheim Police Department's headquarters on Harbor, vehicles began deploying from the back. We tailed some patrol units to see if they would lead us in the right direction. They turned left onto South Street and were followed by a fleet of motorcycle cops who led us right to the command post at Central Yard. "There it is!" Roberts said lighting up like a damn Christmas tree!
More obscured from the public view with high walls, a whole lot of cops could still be seen. Parked at the command post were horses, trailers, an Anaheim SWAT vehicle, armored vehicles and numerous patrol cars--both marked and unmarked. Interim Chief Raul Quezada and his staff were congregating in an alley open to both Vermont Avenue and South Street. Should there be any impromptu attempt by protestors to take Harbor en route to Disneyland, police positioning could easily 'kettle' them, pinching like crab claws from both sides. As the prescient, fish-eyed Admiral Ackbar from Star Wars warned, "It's a trap!"
Back at City Hall, the assembly of protestors numbered at about 500 at its peak. The large parking structure behind it was closed off for supposed "maintenance." Spotted among the crowd was James Armendaris, Manager for OC Human Relations' Police Community Reconciliation Program, snapping photos before the march headed down Broadway Avenue towards Harbor. The gathering eventually stopped in front of APD headquarters as speaker after speaker rallied for hours from atop a stage truck. Once again, Roberts and I took off to see if police assets had already been re-positioned from their command post.
Our first discovery was an equestrian unit of half-a-dozen or so positioned in the back alley of Benjamin Franklin Elementary, not far off from where the protestors were and completely obscured from view on Harbor. Around the way, dozens of motorcycle cops and a few patrol units were tucked behind the parking lot of an office building near the intersection of South and Harbor. Across the street, a second equestrian unit was hidden in the Anaheim First Christian Church where Chief Advisory Board member Becky Alhberg is a worship minister!
At Disneyland, the pace of tourism was normal and nothing seemed out of place save for a barricade blocking the temporary drop-off traffic circle near the entrance. Vermont Avenue seemed to be the red line where protestors would be blocked from the business entrance to the Disneyland Resort Area.
Back at the police department, the march began in motion again near 6 p.m. The number of protestors diminished in half but progressed towards South Street and its moment of truth. No hard skirmish line was established by police. A handful of people broke away and headed towards Disneyland, but like Frank the Tank's naked run in Old School, they realized no one was following them and ran back to the crowd that turned up South on its way returning to City Hall.
Anaheim Police had cleared the streets all along the path with temporary parking bans. OCTA buses were similarly rerouted. Activists had legal observers on hand giving the strong impression that the march was a permitted one after all, but surprisingly that was not case.
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"The organizers did not pull a permit, but we did communicate with them prior to help facilitate the march today," Sgt. Bob Dunn told the Weekly. "In all our prior communications, the organizers assured us the march would be peaceful and lawful. We did have additional traffic staffing to assist with the march. They helped block lanes and traffic as necessary." There was one arrest made of a sixteen-year old Anaheimer for vandalizing the police station, Dunn said, but that was it.
Had there been a splinter march or any other attempt to spill into Disneyland, the police, as my day's adventures with Roberts showed, were more than ready to stop it cold in its tracks. Instead, organizers packed up their signs onto the stage truck as people dispersed from City Hall. The march to commemorate the anniversary of the fatal police shootings in Anaheim came to a close. Now it's up to gritty political organizing to take its place in the city so that 'nothing's really changed' remains not a truism this time next year...
Follow Gabriel San Román on Twitter @dpalabraz