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Time for soul-searching in Anaheim

The fatal police shooting of an unarmed, fleeing suspect has roiled the city's Latino population. Officials need to look closely at the root causes of the anger.

July 26, 2012
  • Demonstrators gathered on the steps of Anaheim City Hall to protest the death of Manuel Diaz, 25, who died as a result of gunshot wounds sustained during a police pursuit by the Anaheim Police Department last Saturday on North Anna Drive.
Demonstrators gathered on the steps of Anaheim City Hall to protest the… (The Orange County Register…)

The fatal police shooting of an unarmed, fleeing suspect in Anaheim is drawing scrutiny from at least three different agencies as city officials seek to quell the outcry from local residents. But these investigations address only part of the problem that four days of sporadically violent protests have brought to light. There is something fundamentally wrong in the relationship between the Anaheim police and the city's growing Latino community. It's time not just for investigations but for soul-searching.

The unrest started Saturday afternoon after police fatally wounded Manuel Angel Diaz, 25, who was shot after running away from a group of approaching officers. Police described Diaz as a known gang member, but they also said he wasn't armed. The shooting — in a high-density, lower-income neighborhood dominated by Latinos — attracted a crowd, which eventually took to the streets and got into an altercation with officers. Police say that residents threw bottles and rocks at them and set fire to a dumpster; officers fired pepper pellets and beanbags at residents and — accidentally, they say — unleashed a police dog on a woman pushing a baby stroller and a group of people sitting on a lawn.

The protests grew increasingly violent over the next three days. There's no justification for the vandalism and looting, which Anaheim Mayor Tom Tait seemed to blame on people "not from our city." But the inexcusable excesses of some protesters shouldn't distract city officials' attention from the outpouring of emotion that the shooting prompted within the city's borders. According to the city, hundreds of people came to Tuesday night's City Council meeting to speak about the incident and the rise in police shootings in general. Anaheim had four officer-involved shootings in 2011 but has already seen six this year, five of them fatal and two of them last weekend alone.

PHOTOS: Protests against Anaheim police shootings

City officials did the right thing in asking for a federal investigation into Diaz's death, on top of investigations by the Orange County district attorney and, reportedly, the Office of Independent Review. But they also need to trace the source of the anger among local Latinos. Although the police chief has a Community Advisory Board that meets monthly to discuss residents' issues, the protests suggest that the department hasn't done enough to win their trust. That distrust may also extend to the City Council, whose four members are all elected on citywide votes — an approach that dilutes Latino citizens' voting power. Considering that Latinos account for more than half of Anaheim's 341,000 residents,city officials need to find a way to address their concerns before they take them to the streets.

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