There is more to Anaheim, Calif., than Disneyland. As shown by this crime map, the unfortunate tourist who takes a wrong turn on his way out of the Magic Kingdom may quickly find the neighborhood he has entered is far from The Happiest Place on Earth.
Things are not getting any happier. On a recent Friday morning, Anaheim police officers shot at (and missed) a man who attempted to run them down with a car when they interrupted him and an accomplice while committing a burglary. The previous weekend, officers tried to stop a stolen car whose driver led them on a brief pursuit before crashing. The two men and a woman in the car fled on foot, and, as one of the men did so, he pulled a gun and fired at the officers. The officers returned fire and killed him. Also that weekend, officers on patrol attempted to stop some suspected gang members, one of whom ran away. A pursuing officer believed the man was pulling a weapon as he ran, prompting the officer to fire at him. The man died, but was found to have been unarmed.
The four suspects involved in these shooting incidents were Frank Armenta, Jose Campos-Castellanos, Manuel Diaz, and Joel Acevedo, names that might lead the reader to assume a shared lineage that leads to countries somewhere south of the U.S. border. And, as you might imagine, the uproar that has followed these incidents is not limited to the shootings themselves but instead about the cauldron of racial politics that has come to a boil in the city of Anaheim.
Anaheim is an oddly shaped city in Orange County, about 25 miles south on the I-5 from downtown Los Angeles. It is, in effect, two cities, with a mostly white and moderately affluent population living in Anaheim Hills on the city’s east side, and a mostly Latino and far less affluent population occupying the areas to the west — known locally as “the Flats.” Although Latinos make up slightly more than half of the city’s population, none currently serve on the city council, whose members are chosen in at-large elections rather than by individual districts. (Four of the five current members live in Anaheim Hills.) This arrangement has, of course, attracted the attention of the ACLU, which has sought to end the practice with a lawsuit.
It is against this civic backdrop that the recent police shootings and the protests they have engendered must be viewed. Yes, just over half of Anaheim’s residents are Latino. But some significant portion of them are not U.S. citizens and therefore cannot vote — at least in theory. At the same time, the vast majority of the city’s criminals are also Latino, and, as the map linked above indicates, they are a busy lot. The overall crime rate for the city puts it well below the national and state averages, but what crime there is is concentrated in a few neighborhoods in the center of town where the population of Latinos is highest.
This puts the Anaheim Police Department in an uncomfortable political situation, with the city government demanding an aggressive approach to fighting crime and protecting the tourism on which the city depends. Of necessity, this brings police officers into frequent — and sometimes violent — contact with Latino gang members. According to a statement released by the Anaheim Police Association, the officers’ labor union, the two men killed in the police shootings described above — Manuel Diaz and Joel Acevedo — were documented gang members who had served time in prison.