Years After Their Own Protests, Eyes Of Anaheim Are On Ferguson
MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:
Some of the demographic shifts that have taken place in Ferguson and St. Louis County are similar to those at work in other communities. Two years ago the suburban city of Anaheim, south of Los Angeles, saw several days of protests and riots. Back to back police shootings of young Latino men ignited frustration in residents who said their police and city government didn't represent them. From member station KPCC in Los Angeles, Erika Aguilar report.
ERIKA AGUILAR, BYLINE: A small group of mostly mothers, their children and elderly grandmas symbolically walk around Anna Drive. It's a short street with cramped apartment buildings. A woman uses a bullhorn to call up to neighbors watching from balconies.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (Spanish spoken).
AGUILAR: She tells them it's important to take part in the change that's happened in their neighborhood. She's talking about the Anaheim police officers that have joined them on this community walk. Rebecca Santillan has lived here for five years.
REBECCA SANTILLAN: A lot of people hate the police right now, so I think that we need to work with the police so that they will know how to have respect towards us, and us to them.
AGUILAR: This is the same street where police shot and killed 25-year-old Manuel Diaz 's two years ago. Tensions grew the next day, when the Anaheim police shot and killed another Latino man - 21-year-old Joel Acevedo. Police say he shot at them first.
JOEL ACEVEDO: From the beginning, I started going to city council - like, two days after my son was killed.
AGUILAR: That's the Donna Acevedo. When she and neighbors marched to City Hall after son's death, a line of police in riot gear blocked them from entering. Council chambers were at capacity and they'd have to wait. But a group of people decided instead to unleash on a strip mall across the street, smashing store windows, looting and sending trash cans on fire.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Get away from there. Hey, hey - shame on you.
AGUILAR: Acevedo says she didn't know to do after that. People were angry. She was too. They wanted to be heard.
ACEVEDO: That's kind of what I lived for like, the first few month - was going to city council and then protesting. But then the protesting - I'm like OK, this is good but it doesn't change anything.
AGUILAR: For months, mothers who lost sons to police shootings met with city leaders and just talked. The women outlined what reforms they wanted. Eventually the police chief retired, giving residents a chance to weigh in on what they wanted in a replacement. For the first time in the city's history, they hired a Latino, Spanish-speaking police chief - Raul Quezada - promoted from within. Quezada admits the police department fell short on building relationships in the community before the riots. He says he's made that his priority now.
RAUL QUEZADA: Every radio call, every contact - I just don’t want my officers to handle the call. I want them to interact with the community and share information about the department, our various programs and again just strengthening our relationship with the community.
AGUILAR: To increase police transparency, Quezada requires uniformed officers to record their interactions with the public using audio devices, and the city's creating a civilian public safety board to review the department's budget and police shootings. There's a collection of posters in the corner of Donna Acevedo's living room. She still protests but she's been focused lately on the November elections for city council because she's running.
ACEVEDO: I kept waiting and I'm like, well, who is going to represent me? Like, who am I going to vote for? There's nobody worth voting for and then I thought, you know what, I'll vote for myself.
AGUILAR: If she were to win - and that's a long shot - it would be a big deal. Right now there are no Latinos on the Anaheim city council, though they make up half of the city's population. There's also a broader measure on the November ballot that could close the divide in representation going forward. It would change the way city leaders are elected - they would be voted on by neighborhood instead of citywide. For NPR News, I'm Erika Aguilar in Los Angeles. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.