Police Brutality, Racism and Public Indifference In Anaheim
Last night, I was on Thom Hartman discussing police brutality in Anaheim, California over the weekend. I tried to point out that these types of militarized police actions are largely limited to communities of color and political demonstrations (i.e. Occupy Wall Street, Chicago #NoNATO protests, upcoming RNC and DNC conventions).
The racialized aspect of the Anaheim incident is significant yet has hardly been discussed. According to Presente.org, there have been eight officer-involved shootings in Anaheim just this year. The Anaheim neighborhood where Manuel Diaz was shot on Saturday, July 21, is almost 90% Latino.
In police justifications for this recent shooting and subsequent treatment of protesting residents, the term “gang member” keeps popping up. For example, The Orange County Register reports (emphasis mine):
Police described Diaz as a “documented gang member,” and said he was shot after the officers saw three men near a car in the 600 block of Anna Drive, near La Palma Avenue and State College Boulevard. Believing the activity to be suspicious, the officers approached the vehicle, and all three men fled on foot.
Furthermore, The Register reports that Anaheim Police Chief John Welter described the firing of bean bags and pepper spray at protesting residents as in response to the throwing of bottles and rocks at officers by “some known gang members.”
“Gang” is a racialized term. It triggers images of violent black and/or brown criminal stereotypes. Repeatedly using the words “gang member” to describe the people at the other end of police violence is nothing more than a thinly veiled attempt to elicit racial indifference towards the victims. After all, if scary brown gangsters were involved, the police had every reason to shoot Diaz, whether he was armed or not, right?
When words like “gangs” or “drugs” are thrown around in connection to victims of color, sympathy for the injured and/or dead comes to a sudden halt. Look no further than the lack of concern for Chicago’s latest scourge of gun violence, with over 250 homicides in 2012 alone, up 40% from this time last year. This has been blamed on guns, gangs, and drugs, which is mostly true. (The larger problem, the War on Drugs and police tactics, is almost always ignored, but I’ll save that for another post.)
Contrast that with the horrified reaction to the Colorado theatre shooting. Sure, there was some unfair victim blaming along the lines of “those parents were crazy to take their kids to a midnight showing of a pg-13 movie”. Still, politicians fell all over themselves competing over who could pray harder for the victims and their families. President Obama even traveled to Aurora where the shooting took place. I can’t imagine him doing the same for the victims of Chicago’s gun violence.
The point is that people react with indifference to victims of “guns, gangs, and drugs” because those words are dehumanizing particularly when used in connection to people of color. So when police say, “suspected gang members provoked us”, and the media regurgitates their claims, the public quits caring, meaning excessive police force against these communities will continue as will the shootings of unarmed people of color like Manuel Diaz.
Below is a video I highly recommend watching of children from the Anaheim neighborhood, where officers shot rubber bullets and pepper spray, speak out against the police brutality aimed at them.