Hundreds protest police shootings

Monday , July 30, 2012 - 10:15 AM

Anaheim Police Shootings-Protests

Protesters demonstrate outside he Anaheim Police Department over a string of recent fatal police...

Matt Stevens, Rick Rojas

ANAHEIM, Calif. - The hundreds of protesters who gathered Sunday outside Anaheim police headquarters remained angry with law enforcement after recent fatal officer-involved shootings sparked unrest in Orange County’s largest city, although the tension did not escalate as it had last week.

The demonstration stretched long into the afternoon, with more than 200 protesters initially chanting in front of police headquarters and taking over a parking lot where they drew chalk outlines of bodies and wrote messages condemning the police.

The protest took a dramatic turn when the crowd began marching en masse on Harbor Boulevard, saying they were headed to Disneyland. But police in riot gear corralled them, and many returned to police headquarters.

Authorities made at least four arrests in connection with the protests, according to Anaheim police. Three men - from San Bernardino, Escondido and San Diego - were arrested when, police said, they blocked traffic after authorities told them to get out of the street. A woman was arrested on suspicion of assaulting an employee and customers at a nearby gas station.

Organizers hoped the demonstration would remain peaceful in order to avoid a repeat of Tuesday’s events. In that night’s mass protest, police used non-lethal rounds to disperse a crowd of about 1,000 who marched through the streets after a packed City Council meeting. Some protesters threw rocks, bricks and other objects at officers and started fires in trash bins. By Tuesday night’s end, authorities said, 24 protesters had been arrested, 20 buildings damaged and seven people injured.

"We don’t want to see another Tuesday night," said George Olivio, an organizer with Occupy Orange County.

Family members of those killed in officer-involved shootings implored demonstrators Sunday not to escalate the tension.

"I’m not asking, I’m demanding," Theresa Smith, 65, told those assembled through a megaphone. She said her 35-year-old son Caesar Cruz was fatally shot by Anaheim police in 2009.

This month, police fatally shot two men in Anaheim: Manuel Diaz on July 21 and Joel Acevedo the next day. Authorities said that Diaz, 25, who was unarmed, was avoiding arrest and that Acevedo, 21, had fired at officers during a foot chase.

And the officer-involved shooting Friday - police opened fire on a burglary suspect, who was unhurt - was the city’s seventh such shooting this year, five of which have been fatal. The city had four officer-involved shootings in 2011.

Hundreds of community members attended a vigil for Diaz on Sunday evening at a makeshift memorial near the scene of his shooting.

In front of police headquarters earlier, Smith, wearing a T-shirt reading "In loving memory of my son," acknowledged that the community remains outraged after the recent clashes with police, but she said that acting out on that anger would only hurt the demonstrators’ cause. "But it’s their anger," she added, "and I understand the years of frustration. ... I don’t condone it, but I understand it."

Soon after the protest began, demonstrators congregated on the sidewalk just yards from the front entrance of police headquarters. The crowd chanted: "The whole system is guilty" and "Am I next?" touching on a sense of stewing ethnic and class divisions in the city.

Although they were angry, they did not use violence to express it.

"These are our weapons!" Renee Balenti, 39, shouted at police, pointing to her mouth and head.

The crowd, which swelled to as many as 350, police said, included many local activists, including members of Occupy Orange County and Kelly’s Army, a protest group formed after the fatal police beating of Kelly Thomas in Fullerton last year.

Anaheim Police Sgt. Bob Dunn said the makeup of the crowd changed as the day progressed. He suggested that protesters from outside the city pushed out the more peaceful protesters who live in Anaheim.

"When you saw the initial groups out front of the Police Department, things were going as best as we could have hoped," said Dunn, who was at Sunday’s protest.

The clashes between police and protesters have frustrated those who live nearby, spectators to mass demonstrations, hovering helicopters and law enforcement in riot gear hanging off the sides of sport utility vehicles speeding down their streets.

"It’s not right," Elizabeth Munoz, 21, said as she watched protesters and police stand off outside her home. Munoz said she had become annoyed by both sides and the fact they were in her neighborhood. "They’re coming down here where I live. We don’t even have our own privacy."

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(Times staff writer Kate Mather contributed to this report.)

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)2012 Los Angeles Times

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Distributed by MCT Information Services

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