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Why Anaheim, known for Disney and the Angels, erupted in violence this week

The fatal police shootings of two young Hispanic men in Anaheim last weekend led to an explosion of ethnic and socioeconomic resentments that have festered for years.

By Daniel B. WoodStaff writer / July 26, 2012

In this photo taken this week, Palm trees frame the Anaheim City Hall in Anaheim, Calif.

AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes

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Los Angeles

Anaheim, the city of 340,000 25 miles south of here, is perhaps best known for its 2002 world champion Angels baseball team and globally famous Disneyland.

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But this week it is in the spotlight for demonstrations, arrests, civil-rights lawsuits, and city, state and federal investigations into alleged police abuse after the fatal police shootings of two young Hispanic men last weekend led to an explosion of ethnic and socioeconomic resentments that have grown and festered for years.

Demonstrations and clashes with police erupted for days after the shootings, reaching their height with riots late Tuesday in which 1000 protesters surged into the streets and 24 people were arrested. Anaheim Police Chief John Welter said police declared an unlawful assembly when the crowds swelled to 1,000 people.

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The dual killings have upped the number of fatal shootings by police in this metropolis of palm fronds, freeways and mini-malls to six so far this year, compared to four at this time a year ago.

Helping to quell the unrest in the city was the announcement that the US Dept. of Justice would launch an investigation into potential civil rights violations – whether or not the fatal shootings reflect a pattern of abuse by Anaheim police.

Interviews with local activists, ethnic organizations, police, and residents reveal tensions resulting from the huge growth of the Hispanic population have been rising for two decades. The Hispanic community now accounts for 53 percent of Anaheim’s residents, followed by 28 percent who are white, and 15 percent Asian.

Analysts point to a lag in having that population growth represented on the city council and in the police and fire departments as fostering resentments.

“What a lot of the press and pundits are saying about this is true – there is a disparity of income between Hispanics and the affluent here, there is inequality in education, and overcrowding and gang activity,” says Alejandro Moreno, a member of Los Amigos of Orange County – the dominant Hispanic advocacy group in the region – and an activist for Hispanic causes in Orange County for 25 years.

Mr. Moreno says tensions have also been fueled by the growth of Disneyland in recent decades – the expansions of malls, retail shops, and accommodations outside the former boundaries of the park. Local police, he says, are unfairly devoting more energy to protect those new neighborhoods than they are the scruffier neighborhoods where Hispanics live.

“There are more police dedicated to making sure that those resort areas are crime free rather than the rest of the Latino communities in Orange County,” he says. “These people want to create ‘the happiest place on earth’ and have Latinos come and help and clean up, but they don’t want them living there because they say they don’t look good, and don’t take care of their homes.”

Moreno and others also describe the phenomenon of male youth who grow up without fathers and therefore join gangs, resulting in a model of male authority that is warped or non-existent.

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