Dispatches From Anaheimistan

By the time July 29's protest at the Anaheim Police Department headquarters began at noon, everyone was ready. The television news vans—at least half a dozen of them—were lined up, their satellite dishes extended to the sky. Rows of uniformed officers sat atop horses, each one equipped with a clear-plastic riot visor. Behind the police station, in a parking lot, was a laager of law-enforcement vehicles: armored cars, SUVs, pickups, paddy wagons and tactical-assault vehicles, all painted black.

In front of the station, a crowd of hundreds had gathered: members of Occupy Oakland, Los Angeles and Orange County; various anarchists wearing ski masks and scarves and carrying the famous Wobbly-era flag of a black cat arched to strike; as well as family members of people shot by Anaheim police. They shouted slogans designed to inflame the tempers of stone-faced officers standing behind barricades and clutching batons and shotguns.

“Oink oink, bang, bang, every day, the same old thang,” one group shouted.

As cops on horses trotted past the crowd, others chanted, “Get those animals off those horses!”

A few particularly incensed protesters trailed after a cop whose mount had just taken a dump in the street. “Are you going to clean up after your horse?” demanded one.

“I don't even let my dog shit in the street,” remarked another.

The cop didn't answer, and despite the massive display of military force, the officers kept their tempers under control. At about 2 p.m., hundreds of people marched south on Harbor Boulevard in an attempt to make their presence felt at the gates of the Magic Kingdom. As the group left, a trio of cops in floppy, Special Forces-style hats who were peering down from the roof of the police station pointed what resembled cameras with telephoto lenses at them.

As the protesters snaked along Ball Road, they were tracked by vehicles with runner boards laden with officers. When they reached the intersection of Harbor Boulevard and Ball Road, about a block north of Disneyland, cops in full battle regalia made a valiant stand for the Mouse and diverted the throng east through nearby neighborhoods.

One demonstrator told an officer he wanted to go to Disneyland. “It's closed” was the reply.

“I have a ticket,” the marcher insisted, before heading east, away from the Happiest Place On Earth. (BF)

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As protesters moved south from police headquarters, the cops followed, some in black vans, which passed by with SWAT officers in body armor hanging onto the sides of the vehicles, ready to deploy, as helicopters hovered ahead. The closest the two groups came to clashing happened about 15 minutes into the march, near Ball Road, when some 20 horse-mounted Orange County Sheriff's deputies and Santa Ana police officers chased demonstrators off the street and onto the sidewalk.

As they scattered, the protesters hurled curses and insults at police. “Save a life,” shouted one. “Kill yourself!”

As the police corralled protesters, one officer, evidently impatient with the stragglers, seemed to be seething with rage. He nearly lost control of his horse, which, for a few terrifying seconds, tilted toward the demonstrators on the sidewalk, dangerously close to toppling over.

Two blocks farther south, protesters reached the intersection of Harbor Boulevard and Ball Road, where police horses and the Anaheim SWAT team formed a half-circle, their weapons drawn. Unlike at previous protests, there were no projectiles thrown at the cops. Instead, many demonstrators looked visibly scared. “Are they going to shoot us?” one person asked.

Police issued no orders to disperse, instead repeating their demand that protesters stick to the sidewalk. But more than 100 of them sprinted down a side street; they were followed by officers, who quickly surrounded them.

Atef Nadal, an Anaheim resident who ran with the group, said that Latino residents started to come out of their homes, offering water and support, even hosing down some of the sweat-drenched protesters. “They were throwing their fists in the air and showing they were sympathetic with what we were protesting against, which is police brutality and harassment in Anaheim neighborhoods,” he said.

As police moved in on the demonstrators, prepared to make arrests, residents screamed at the police, “Leave them alone!” and, “Go home!” Within moments, officers put away their batons, apparently acting in response to an order from superiors to back up and mount up. No arrests were made, and protesters, who swiftly moved onto the sidewalks, passed around the police blockade without incident. (AS)

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Meanwhile, in front of Anaheim City Hall, a separate group called We Are Anaheim, or Somos Anaheim, held a march to protest not only the recent, back-to-back officer-involved shootings, but also the subsequent violence of demonstrators, who so far have thrown bottles, broken store windows and engaged in scattered acts of looting. Between 100 and 200 demonstrators wore white shirts and held signs supporting neither side of the police-brutality issue: “Respect Our Neighborhood,” “No More Violence” and “We Walk for Peace.”

Despite the large number of people, an eerie quiet held sway. In fact, the lack of noise was deliberate. According to protest co-organizer Veronica Rodarte, of Anaheim, her group chose to march in complete silence.

“We support their cause for justice,” Rodarte explained. “We just had a different method.”

The protest brought out union workers, religious groups, students and families, as well as Jose Moreno, who sits on Anaheim City School District's board of trustees. He said he's fed up with a City Hall that continually places deep-pocketed special interests over the needs of the community. “There are too many neighborhoods in Anaheim that have felt the indifference of a decade-and-a-half-long developing effort of only one part of our city,” he said.

Other protesters say a flawed city election process caused tensions to burst. Currently, City Council races are city-wide, rather than district by district; not one Latino has ever won an election, despite the fact that cultural group makes up more than half of the population. “In my opinion, all of this is a result of a lack of representation,” said Martin Lopez, recording secretary of UNITE HERE, which represents hundreds of union workers at the Disneyland resort and nearby hotels. “We need more district council members to provide representation of our communities.”

But other protesters seemed more concerned with the recent violence than questions of representation. One marcher, Todd Spitzer, former assemblyman and current Orange County supervisor, represents affluent Anaheim Hills. “I've seen too many communities destroyed,” he said, referring to how, as a child, he witnessed the destruction of his family business in East LA and, later, played a role in the 1992 Rodney King riots as a Los Angeles police officer. When asked whether he stood in solidarity with the protesters he was marching with, Spitzer responded, “That's a loaded term. I'm here to show that I'm supportive of the goals exemplified by this group—nonviolent social change.”

As the protest came to a close, Rodarte said she felt the group's modest goal was accomplished. “Our goal was to bring all sides together in unity and peace. Step two is to set up small community forums where we can voice those opinions in an appropriate manner.” (YN)

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