“He was a documented gang member,” say the Anaheim police of Manuel Diaz, a 25 year old unarmed man they shot dead around 4:00 pm Sunday. They shot him in the buttocks as he ran, and as he stooped to his knees in someone’s yard they followed up by a bullet to the back of his head. Then they handcuffed their immobile quarry with a bloody face and a hole in his skull (as described by a 17 year old neighborhood resident), and searched his pockets before sending him to the hospital to die within three hours.
As I understand it, California law states: “Any person who actively participates in any criminal street gang with knowledge that its members engage in or have engaged in a pattern of criminal gang activity, and who willfully promotes,furthers, or assists in any felonious criminal conduct by members of that gang, shall be punished by imprisonment in a county jail for a period not to exceed one year, or by imprisonment in the state prison for 16 months, or two or three years.”
It does not say that gang membership in itself is illegal, or that documented gang members may be shot on sight.
According to Associated Press, “The shooting sparked a melee in the neighborhood as some threw rocks and bottles at officers who were securing the scene for investigators to collect evidence.”
Evidence for a drug deal presumably. But his sister Lupe Diaz said on the day of his murder that Manuel had been “just hanging out with friends,” adding “There is no explanation. It’s not fair.” Neighbor Yesenia Rojas (34) who received a welt on her stomach after the police attacked her with a bean bag Sunday, calls him a “good person” and asks, “Why kill this man?” (She’s the woman with the stroller whose grandson was nearly attacked by the K-9 police dog in the now-famous video.)
Even if he was involved in a drug transaction, and even if he were known for such activity in the neighborhood, how could his murder not produce outrage?
A melee is a skirmish, brawl, free-for-all. Is that what happened? It’s not what the video shows. That’s not what the 22 photos posted on the Orange County Register site show.
The AP coverage continues: “Sgt. Bob Dunn, the department’s spokesman, said that as officers detained an instigator, the crowd advanced on officers so they fired bean bags and pepper balls at them.”
Yeah, like this?
I don’t see any attack on police. I see maybe a dozen woman and children approached by cops with rifles drawn and shooting bean bags and pepper spray (and maybe rubber bullets) at close range. One sobbing woman mentions seeing a person throw a water bottle at police before a police dog attacked her and her baby. Could it be that the cops angered at verbal and symbolic expressions of outrage “were provoked” to do what they clearly do in the video? And that that’s what produced statements of defiance? And after darkness set in, such symbolic actions as blocking a street with a dumpster filled with paper on fire?
The two officers involved have been placed on paid leave. You can bet your life they wouldn’t have been, had there not been a “melee” or two and a PR nightmare for the police department. Nor would the police department and the Orange County District Attorney’s Office have announced separate investigations of the incident, or Anaheim mayor Tom Tait said be asking California’s attorney general to assist in that. These are minimal measures to contain the natural outrage.
A video of a police statement carried on the Orange County Register site tells us a lot of how the police view these things.
“About 4 pm this afternoon,” says the spokesman, in a pleasant upbeat voice, “uh, two of our officers were on patrol here in the 600 block of North Anna Drive in the center alley. They attempted to make contact with three subjects. Uh, during that contact the subjects fled, uh, a foot pursuit ensued. During that foot pursuit one of our officers encountered, uh, one of the males they had been chasing and an officer involved shooting occurred. Only one person was hit during that officer involved shooting. That was the person that we were chasing, a male. He was transported to the hospital and at this point I don’t know what his condition is. So at this point the investigation is ongoing. There were two additional, uh, male suspects in the alley at the time this foot pursuit began. Uh, at this point we will be conducting an investigation to try to identify who those males are. This is still a very active crime scene. Anyone that saw anything or witnessed this that has not spoken to police this is welcome call and remain anonymous the Anaheim Police Department…”
“Attempted to make contact with three subjects…” What does that mean? Attempting to see what they were doing? Attempting to arrest them? Attempting to harass them? The language is so mundane and friendly sounding.
Why did they flee? A niece of Diaz, Daisy Gonzalez (16) told reporters that her her uncle probably ran from the two officers because, “”He (doesn’t) like cops. He never liked them because all they do is harass and arrest anyone.” Is that not a very common feeling, particularly among Blacks and Latinos, in cities throughout the country? Isn’t the fear totally justifiable?
“A foot pursuit ensued.” Notice how the passive voice leaves agency out of it. Why not just say, “The two policemen chased him?” And why “an officer involved shooting occurred”? As though there were no real people involved here. Like the officer didn’t really do anything but was just “involved” by something fated to happen. Like for some reason a tree fell down. Why not be honest and say: “The officers chasing him shot him to death, from the back, as he ran?”
“He was transported to the hospital and at this point I don’t know what his condition is.” Why not mention that he’d been deliberately shot in the brain and was unlikely to survive? And why not mention that he was unarmed?
“This is still a very active crime scene.” Well yes, at least in the sense that, while no weapons have been found there, armed police continue to criminally harass people.
“Anyone that saw anything or witnessed this that has not spoken to police about this is welcome call and remain anonymous the Anaheim Police Department.” (Am I being to picky in noting that “that” ought to be “who” or “whom” when we are talking respectfully to people?) Feel welcome to fink, people, to help us get those who ran away successfully and who we want for reasons we don’t need to explain to you. Trust us, we know who’s good and bad.
The real crime here is obviously the murder of an unarmed young man charged with no crime, murdered for running terrified through a crowded neighborhood at 4:00 in the evening, in full view of the people. A crime compounded by a police attack on those people with rifles and a police dog. (I suspect the claim made Monday that the dog broke free from restraint and his trainer is mortified by what happened is more PR damage control. What was a police dog doing there in the first place?)
It was not (apparently) caught on tape, like the Rodney King beating. But the vicious assault on men, women and children just hanging out outside on a warm summer late afternoon, leaving welts, bites and scratches sending a few to the hospital should be equally infuriating. It’s just another statement of the impunity the police feel. However poorly paid (and they are); however closely they resemble the criminals they’re hired to hunt down and control, they are in the end the enforcers of a system which because it cannot satisfy human needs makes humans hard to control without guns and dogs, fear and repression.
Tuesday City Hall was surrounded with five or six hundred protesters, facing off against 250 police who arrested 24during seven hours of what AP calls “confrontations.” The protests were peaceful all afternoon—until the police moved into arrest someone around 6:30 supposedly threatening them with a gun. But like Diaz on Saturday, he had no gun. As on Saturday, unwarranted police action led the crowd to pelt the police with rocks, the weapon of the weak, of the intifada.
Police spokesman Dunn explained that some of the rock throwers appeared to be outsiders “who were prone to violence and wanted to incite” violence. We’ve heard this before many times.
The angry people (according to AP, citing Dunn) “took over an intersection, and a splinter group walked to the scene of one police shooting and back, throwing rocks, vandalizing cars and throwing a Molotov cocktail that damaged a police car… Throughout the night, knots of protesters spread through downtown, setting fires in trash cans and smashing windows of businesses, including a Starbucks… There also were reports that a T-shirt store was looted… A gas station was shut down after reports that some protesters were seen filling canisters with gas. Police used pepper balls and beanbag rounds. Twenty adults and four minors were arrested…”
We need more than a melee, more than a riot. To end the routine abuses of the cops we need conditions that don’t require cops, at least not cops who are outsiders charged with earning their collar by training their guns on youth, occupiers comparable to foreign troops in Afghanistan and Iraq who drop bombs almost as sport. We need conditions that allow for community self-policing based on values of kindness and respect. We need to replace the hurling of water bottles with demands for revolution.
GARY LEUPP is Professor of History at Tufts University, and holds a secondary appointment in the Department of Religion. He is the author of Servants, Shophands and Laborers in in the Cities of Tokugawa Japan; Male Colors: The Construction of Homosexuality in Tokugawa Japan; and Interracial Intimacy in Japan: Western Men and Japanese Women, 1543-1900. He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, (AK Press). He can be reached at: email@example.com