Theresa Smith and her son Caesar Cruz
Theresa Smith has been peacefully demonstrating outside of the Anaheim Police Department ever since her son, 35-year-old father of five Caesar Cruz, was shot by Anaheim Police on Dec. 11, 2009. Since the weekend, the city has seen protests and civil unrest as residents have taken to the streets after two fatal Anaheim officer-involved shootings in two days.
OC Weekly covered Smith's weekly protests last month
as she was gaining more support from families affected by officer-involved shootings. Smith has also been active in organizing support for police accountability and transparency through her non-profit startup LEAN
(Law Enforcement Accountability Network). With the recent uprising, she says she is staying away from the escalating demonstrations as they reflect a type of protest does not condone.
"I don't want to be a part of that, it is not and never has been my style," said Smith. "I am going to keep doing what I am doing. There has to be change, but not the way it's going down right now."
Smith has a support group where she invites families affected by officer-involved shootings on a weekly basis to her residence for guidance during the grieving process. With Smith's networking, she is able to reach out to families within days of fatal shootings.
With the weekend shootings, she didn't have to go far to get in touch with the families affected. As Lupe Diaz, the sister of Manuel Diaz who was shot dead by police on Saturday, spoke to reporters outside of the Anaheim Police Department demonstration on Sunday, Smith held her hand and gave her a comforting embrace as Diaz wept in her arms.
Donna Castro, the mother of Joel Acevedo who slain by police on Sunday, is a friend of one of Smith's family members. Smith has been in contact with her, along with Diaz's family, to offer support and guide them through the legal implications of their respective cases.
Smith says she is disheartened by the recent vandalism of protesters, along with other families who have lost loved ones to officer-involved shootings.
"All of us mothers feel the same way, we don't want the violence," she said. "I understand the aggravation and anger [with the recent protesters] because they are extremely upset about what's going on. But that's not the way to do it."
Despite the unfortunate circumstances, Smith now has the attention of local authorities she did not have before. During a July 25 meeting with community organizers, Mayor Tom Tait stepped in to speak with her.
Mayor Tait has called on the California Attorney General and the Fedeal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) to do an investigation into the recent shootings. It was the first time Smith had the opportunity to speak with the mayor, who also wanted to meet with her personally in the coming days.
"I told him what families go through everytime this happens, how there is a lack of police accountability and transparency on top the grieving they are experiencing," said Smith. "He seemed very impressed with what I had to say."
Smith has received support from other local community leaders for a peaceful solution to end the senseless violence on both sides. She said she optimistic, but patient about the positive direction forward. Smith is also pushing for families to have an active role in the investigations the city has proposed.
"Change is not going to happen right away," she said. "Everyone wants a microwave-timed solution but that's not how it works. There has to be change within the entire department, from police harassment to how they handle gangs. It's a long process and everything takes time."