Last Saturday afternoon 25-year-old Manuel Diaz was chatting with two friends in his native Anaheim when a police car drove up with its lights on. What happened next is the subject of a heated controversy that has gained national attention over the past week. Allegedly, the police identified Manuel as a gang member who began throwing objects at the officers, prompting them to open fire, killing the Latino man. However, the Diaz family – who've since filed a civil rights and wrongful death lawsuit seeking $50 million in damages from the city and police department – maintain that the police shot unarmed Manuel once in the back and shot him again in the head after he'd already fallen to the ground.
The incident immediately enraged bystanders and sparked protests across the city. On Sunday hundreds of Anaheim residents flooded the police department demanding to know why police used such deadly force against Manuel. However, only several hours later, a separate incident further stoked the flames of citizen outrage. Anaheim police shot and killed a second man, whom they also deemed to be a gang member, while they pursued him in a car theft case.
Impassioned protesters have since taken to the streets of Anaheim, confronting authorities and calling for an end to unnecessary police brutality. Last week, thousands of people gathered outside of the City Hall – as the City Council held a meeting to discuss the weekend shootings – eventually disrupting the proceedings and blocking all access to the building. The demonstrators then moved to the downtown streets, where the night took a violent turn when some people began breaking windows and throwing rocks and bottles at police. Officers retaliated using batons, non-lethal "bean-bags," and pepper spray projectiles – eventually making 24 arrests.
Despite the recent frenzy, Anaheim residents have long raised their concerns over excessive police force. Especially the city's large Latino community – representing nearly 53 percent of Anaheim's total population – feel targeted by officers and subject to unnecessary brutality. The recent shootings are just the latest instances of a mounting trend, bringing total police shootings in the city up to six this year alone (all but one resulted in fatalities.)
If there truly is a racial and economic side to this institutional violence, the federal government must step in to ensure that justice is being served. An FBI civil rights investigation could result in the creation of an independent citizen review commission to monitor police or a new requirement for officers to undergo sensitivity training – which many in the city's Latino community have long advocated for.