Time To Listen To The Other America

Time To Listen To The Other America

Photo by “NoHoDamon” via Flickr.com

“He’s still alive man, call the cops!”

But it was the cops who had just shot the man, seen in the YouTube video lying face down in an Anaheim neighborhood.

The video, and the outrage it sparked, is central to four nights of rioting that rocked the California city this week.

The man later died at the hospital. In an unrelated incident, police shot and killed another man the next night.

This is one view of America. A view far removed from the banal rhetoric beginning to define this presidential election — and from the worldview of the media industry that is supposed to cover such things.

Get to know it. Because the discontent in Anaheim instantiates an emerging political theme of 2012: the divide between the haves vs. have-nots, between the protected and the policed. We live in the same America, but trust me, we don’t all see it the same way.

Anaheim has had five fatal police shootings this year. The fourth and fifth came in one recent weekend, tipping off underlying tensions between police and the large (and largely impoverished) Latino community.

The man mentioned above who lay wounded as bystanders screamed for police to help him was Manuel Angel Diaz, 25. He was unarmed. Another Latino man they shot and killed, police say, was armed with a handgun and had fired at police.

Outraged over the deaths, hundreds of protesters marched to an already packed City Hall meeting and were turned away. Tensions turned ugly. Store windows were broken, goods stolen and police pelted with bottles and rocks. Law enforcement responded with pepperballs and beanbag rounds.

In a further irony, a brilliant fireworks display at Disneyland, that sacred ground of American consumer order, illuminated protesters and the police in riot gear confronting them. Same planet, different universe.

The ACLU has sued Anaheim over the lack of representation of Hispanics on the local city council, claiming that the municipality’s use of at-large districts violates California’s California Voting Rights Act. According to the Los Angeles Times, none of the city’s five city council members is from the Latino community, even though it comprises half of the city’s 354,000 residents.

In parts of Anaheim, gang violence is a constant concern in poor neighborhoods, and residents complain that police do little to stop it.

The family of Diaz (who police say had gang affiliations) has sued the city, charging civil rights violations and wrongful death. The family alleges that police shot the unarmed man in the back of the head after he was already immobilized by a shot to the leg. An autopsy hasn’t been released yet.

In widely publicized comments, the family’s attorney channeled concerns heard in just about every major city in America.

“There’s a social component to this, which is both racial and economic. Let’s face facts here: White kids in a rich white neighborhoods don’t get rousted by the police, and when they do, they don’t have to fear the police, but that’s not true with brown kids in a poor neighborhood,” said Dana Douglas, the attorney.

“Frankly, when it’s brown kids in a poor area just standing there having a conversation, it’s considered suspicious.”

Little good ever comes from the sort of rioting that Anaheim experienced. The mayhem reinforces stereotypes of out-of-control minorities among the very people who would do better to understand their plight.

Thankfully, in Anaheim, there are also uplifting stories of people of all races reaching out to store owners to help clean up the mess.

It’s a dangerous thing when whole swaths of a community become so disenchanted with their status that they are willing to lash out as a mob.

Frustration is afoot in America. In Anaheim it erupted. It’s time to listen to the other America before the scenes there get replayed elsewhere.

(Mary Sanchez is an opinion-page columnist for The Kansas City Star. Readers may write to her at: Kansas City Star, 1729 Grand Blvd., Kansas City, Mo. 64108-1413, or via e-mail at msanchez@kcstar.com.)


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