Anaheim Cruzaders
Anaheim Cruzaders

Families Affected by Officer-Involved Shootings Host Community Event in Anaheim

After the police killings and riots in Anaheim this past summer, Theresa Smith wanted one day for the city of Anaheim to get together for a day of peace and healing. After taking her request to the Anaheim City Council for a community event during a public comment session on Aug. 8,  fellow commenter Michael Buss of the Anaheim Arts Council shared her vision and they joined forces to create the Come Together for Anaheim Festival slated for this Saturday afternoon at La Palma Park.

Smith held peaceful demonstrations outside of the Anaheim Police Department ever since her son Caesar Cruz was shot by Anaheim Police almost three years ago, but after the uproar following the Manuel Diaz and Joel Acevedo shootings and the subsequent violent police response to protesters in July; Smith has scaled back on the protests and focused on community organizing.

Smith's organization LEAN, Law Enforcement Accountability Network, recently attained non-profit status. She created the organization as a way for families who are affected by police brutality and officer-involved shootings to have resources during their difficult time. The event flyer lists LEAN, the City of Anaheim and the Arts Council as sponsors. Smith says the city granted the permit for the event, but it has been funded by LEAN and organized by volunteers.

The event on Saturday, which starts at 11 a.m. and runs until 3 p.m., has been a collaboration with local non-profits and churches, as well as families of the Manuel Diaz, Joel Acevedo, Martin Hernandez and others affected by police killings.

Come Together for Anaheim will feature food, art activities for adults and children, stage performances by dance and singing groups, community partner booths --- including grief counseling volunteers, and entertainment for the family. About 30 groups are expected to attend including We are Anaheim/Somos Anaheim, a group formed by Anaheim residents calling for peace and unity in the city following the summer of violence.

The planned event comes just days after the name of the officer who shot Diaz was revealed to be Anaheim Police Officer Nick Bennallack.  Just a week ago, the first fatal Anaheim Police shooting investigation was completed and made public by the DA, with police officer Bruce Linn exonerated for any criminal culpability for the shooting of David Raya after a 14 month long inquiry. Linn was also one of the officers involved in the shooting of Smith's son. Smith also learned the same officer who shot Acevedo in July, Kelly Phillips, was involved in her son's shooting as well. 

With all the new information that is coming out, Smith says families, also known as the Anaheim Cruzaders, are still seeking justice, with actions such as a planned demonstration in front of the DA's office on Oct. 26, but the community event is one of the positive actions she hopes can become a pattern for LEAN.

"It's a day of love, people coming together and putting everything aside for just one day, for the community," Smith says. "I'm never going to give up seeking justice and accountability for my son, and neither are the other families seeking justice for their loved ones. But, personally I really wanted one day for the kids as they have been through so much and they have seen so much, not just with the killings and riots but in the violence in their own neighborhoods on a daily basis. There's just so much ugliness, this is one day for people come out and have a good time."

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