Anaheim in Revolt: “I Was Reminded of Apartheid South Africa”

Peta Lindsay

“If you’re not careful, the newspapers will have you hating the people who are being oppressed, and loving the people who are doing the oppressing.”

—Malcolm X

Anaheim is in revolt and everyone wants to know why. To understand what happened in Anaheim this weekend and the continuing waves of protest since then, you must understand the constant fact of brutal, racist police violence in the lives of youth of color and the youth of the working class.

On July 21 the police shot and killed 24-year-old Manuel Diaz, in broad daylight, in his own neighborhood. The police, with the mainstream media serving as their mouthpiece, immediately began to justify their actions, using heavily racially coded language. They said that Manuel Diaz was a “suspect” but never said what he was suspected of. Anyone who has been stopped-and-frisked, anyone who has been pulled over for “driving while Black” knows what it takes to become a “suspect” in this country—being born with non-white skin.

They said Diaz was a “gang member,” a term used to dehumanize and criminalize Black and Brown youth. Remember when they tried to claim that Trayvon Martin was in a gang? In Southern California, “gang member” is used as a racial slur. I hear it every day from the racists who believe that “gang members” don’t deserve rights. It’s frequently used in the media and in the courts as an easy way to get the public on the side of the police. Even if Diaz was a member of the gang—and that’s a big IF because I have no reason to believe that he was affiliated with a gang (and no evidence to that effect has been presented by the police who shot him)—even if he was a member of a gang, does that mean that police can execute him on sight?

The police in Anaheim took one look at Manuel Diaz, and played judge, jury and executioner. The community wants the cops who killed Manuel arrested, they want a trial for those cops—which is more than the cops gave to Diaz or to Joel Acevedo, who was killed by the Anaheim police less than 24 hours later.

The police made the mistake of underestimating the community that witnessed their violence, a community that cares about Manuel Diaz and Joel Acevedo and about all the young men like them. Immediately after Diaz was killed, about 100 people came out to protest. There is video of what happened next which shows a crowd of mostly women and children on what looks like their own front lawns, being brutally attacked by the police in a way that is all too familiar.

The police shot rubber bullets and bean bags, so called “non-lethal” projectiles that have been known to maim and kill, into a crowd composed mostly of women and children. One officer released a dog, which headed straight for a woman holding a baby and mauled a 12 year old boy.

For the second time in two days, I was reminded of apartheid South Africa. Not because of the brutal, racist police but because of the response of the young people who were there, who took the lead in the protests that took off, outside.

Video of brutal police attack on women and children

Watch this video. This video looks like the worst of Bull Connor, this video looks like South Africa under apartheid. U.S. government officials make many statements against countries that they accuse of violently suppressing peaceful protesters; this video shows how empty all of that rhetoric truly is.

In the media they say that the dog was released by accident—funny how the police always get the benefit of the doubt but there is no such courtesy given to the victims of their wrath. Who in the media speaks for the intentions of Manuel Diaz or Joel Acevedo or the community protesters?

I went to Anaheim on Tuesday night to join with the people who wanted to pack the city council meeting and make their voices heard. This is a democracy, right? That was a meeting of their elected officials in a building that their tax dollars paid for but when we arrived we found a line of riot police barring the entrance to City Hall. No one would tell us why we weren’t being admitted. All the police said to us was “Get back!” with their nightsticks drawn.

For the second time in two days, I was reminded of apartheid South Africa. Not because of the brutal, racist police but because of the response of the young people who were there, who took the lead in the protests that took off, outside. These young people—middle and high school students—have grown up in Anaheim. Some of them knew Diaz and Acevedo, but all of them have known oppression at the hands of the police. And all of them have had enough. They were fearless that night. They weren’t alone anymore and they weren’t just victims. They had the support offered by people who had traveled from all over Southern California to stand with them against police brutality. A very young man standing next to me, I would guess he was about 14, walked right up to the line of police and said “What are you going to do? Shoot me? Like you shot my friend?”

That’s the reality in Anaheim and it’s a reality that the police and the system that relies on police repression, created there. The people are fighting back against unjust conditions and for that the media has labeled them “rioters” or as one person put it “just kids breaking stuff.” Well, there were a lot of “kids breaking stuff” in Soweto too.

Young people in Anaheim are fighting back against systemic injustice, the kind of brutality that is easily believed by those of us who have grown up in poor neighborhoods, grown up with Brown skin, grown up knowing that if the cops show up they are not there to protect you. Just the opposite. The police exist to protect the haves from the have-nots. They regularly use terroristic violence in our communities and are rarely sanctioned by the courts or the media for doing so. It is video-taping the police that has exposed their crimes against the people in Anaheim and in countless instances over the past few years. Everyone should video tape the police. Do it for self-defense, defense of your community and defense of others. It is the only way that the police are held accountable for their crimes, otherwise it’s their word against ours and we know who the courts believe.

Epidemic of racist police violence

Racist police brutality didn’t begin in Anaheim, over the past weekend. Eight people have been killed by the Anaheim police in 2012 so far. A study was just released that shows that all across the U.S., on average, one Black person has been killed by the police or security guards every 36 hours in 2012. And the year is only half over.

Racist police violence has existed as long as there have been police in the United States. It is essential to what the police are and what they do. My parents grew up being targeted by the police for being Black and their parents before them.

Like other crises such as record high unemployment and global warming, this epidemic of entrenched and protected, violent racist police is a catastrophe that our generation has inherited.

We inherited these crises and it is up to us to fix them. Our very lives as young people and our future on this planet depends on our ability to fearlessly confront and ultimately replace the disastrous system that will otherwise bury us all. We must organize and struggle, so there’s not one more Manuel Diaz, not one more Joel Acevedo, not one more racist police murder or racist cop in the land.

More protests are planned in Anaheim in the coming days.

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