For Latinos, Anaheim gang sweep rubs riots' wounds. Should police have waited?
Anaheim police say the sweep couldn't wait, and getting gang members and guns off the street will make the city safer. But Latino residents, still bitter after police shootings that sparked riots, saw a power play.
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A soaring crime rate and a feeling of disenfranchisement among Anaheim’s poor have boiled over into a chaotic summer for Anaheim. More than 54 percent of the city’s 336, 265 residents are Latino, and a good chunk live in the western “flatlands” neighborhoods, apart from the more affluent, white “Anaheim Hills” in the east.Skip to next paragraph
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Westside community leaders have been working for years to change the city’s electoral process for more equal representation, fighting, along with the ACLU, for a districted election system wherein local officials would have to live in the neighborhoods they represent.
Of the five City Council members that comprise Anaheim’s city government leadership, including Mayor Tom Tait, only one lives outside of Anaheim Hills.
As a result, Lopez says, the Westside gets left behind. “Our young kids are growing up, there are no jobs, no programs for them – those things are offered in other areas that don’t need them. City Council has been ignoring that cry for help.”
Over the past year, Anaheim’s crime rate has jumped 10 percent, and the murder rate has nearly doubled. Gang violence has definitely become a concern, Lopez says, adding that until recently, residents were trying to work with the police to address the problem. “It helps when there is a police presence in a more positive way,” he says, outlining efforts including meetings and community walks involving police in neighborhoods with gang activity.
But in recent weeks locals have become much more fearful of police than they are of gangs. “We thought things were going well, until, boom [the shootings and riots] happened and I feel like everything went down the drain. When people see police in military fatigues and riot gear, pointing assault weapons at you, what do they expect?” he says. “People get really nervous, thinking, am I going to get shot today?”
“If criminals realize residents are afraid of us, they exploit that,” Police Chief Welter said Friday.
The department says the crackdown was successful in making the troubled neighborhoods safer, and that public reaction has been generally positive.
“We had residents coming up to our officers offering handshakes and thanks for our efforts,” wrote Anaheim Police Department spokesman Sgt. Bob Dunn via e-mail. “This operation has taken many of the gang’s leadership off the streets. Our hope is that we can help the neighborhood with services and skills that will help them take ownership of their neighborhood. This will allow us to work with them on crime prevention.”
But Rojas, who was hit was rubber bullets the night the July 25th riots broke out outside City Hall, thinks the police just want to portray her community and others like it in the worst possible light. “This is not for the Anna Drive that the media is putting on TV,” she says. “We want peace, we have dignity, and we deserve to be treated with respect.”
Even so, Rojas says she and her husband are looking to move away from the street she has lived on since age 7, for the sake of their six children. “It’s gotten too dangerous. We’re looking to see if we can get a house. I have to think about the kids.”
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