Shootings, Violent Protests Put Anaheim On Edge

Tensions in the Southern California city of Anaheim remain high following the recent police shootings of two Latino men, and days of violent protests over the incidents. The city council will hold a special meeting Wednesday night to hear residents' concerns. Some community members say complaints have fallen on deaf ears in a city that cares more about big businesses than them.

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We've been hearing, in recent days, about the city of Anaheim here in Southern California. Violent protests shook that city following police shootings of two Latino men. Tensions there remain high, and tonight the city council will hold a special meeting to hear residents' concerns. But as NPR's Carrie Kahn reports, some community members say their complaints have long been ignored in what they say is a city that cares more about Anaheim's big businesses than about them.

CARRIE KAHN, BYLINE: Bolero Cantero(ph) watches over the makeshift memorial erected in front of the apartment building where 25-year-old Manuel Diaz was shot last month by police. Cantero says he's the handyman for several of the small overcrowded apartments lining this low income neighborhood. He says relations are always tense between police and residents.

BOLERO CANTERO: Yeah, though now it's worse. Like, if you live here they'll stop you for no reason. And they'll want to find something on you.

KAHN: Police say Diaz, known as Stumper, it was a suspected gang member and ran from police. The local police union says officers thought Diaz was armed, no gun was found at the scene. This was the fifth fatal police shooting in Anaheim this year.

But the tension in the neighborhood goes beyond law enforcement. Rafael Brito(ph) , who's also hate out at the memorial, studies economics at nearby Cal State, Fullerton.

RAPHAEL BRITO: It's obvious that if you drive around the city of Anaheim, you'll see where it's neglected. You'll see where they invest more into the city in certain areas for their benefit.

KAHN: You hear these comments a lot, that there are really two Anaheims. There's the Flatlands, the core of the city, mostly working-class and Latino. And then there's Anaheim Hills to the east where residents are wealthier and mostly white. Since the fatal police shooting those divisions are getting more attention. Activists charged that the city council favors the Hills and development around Disneyland over the needs of the rest of the city.

Currently, three out of the four members of the city council live in the wealthier enclaves. Activists, like Marisol Ramirez, who's lived in Anaheim her whole life, says life on her side of town isn't going to change until the city's political structure does.

MARISOL RAMIREZ: My neighborhood has been underrepresented for years. There is lack of resources and (unintelligible) responses from city council, saying that we have no money or no funding.

KAHN: Ramirez was in front of City Hall last week to support a lawsuit to break up Anaheim's council into eight separate districts. They say that will give Latinos, now 53 percent of the city, a better chance of being represented. The way the political system works now, a candidate has to run a citywide campaign which can cost more than $100,000. In Anaheim, Disney is the biggest political player in town. It's the largest employer and taxpayer.

Local blogger Jason Young says through its political action group, known as SOAR, Disney has bankrolled the campaigns of most of the city council.

JASON YOUNG: They have their tentacles too entwine around our city council. And they need to let go.

KAHN: Clearly Anaheim's economic health is dependent on the taxes from Disneyland and the resort area. And Ashley Giovanna Tonia(ph), a spokeswoman for SOAR, says it makes sense for her group to support those who support the economic engine of the city.

ASHLEY GIOVANNA TONIA: On just five percent of the land, we contribute 50 percent of Anaheim's tax base. As well as the fact that thousands of people from throughout the entire region depend on the success of the district for the job.

KAHN: But a recent vote by the council angered many Latino residents, fueling resentment that there needs to take a backseat to Disney. The council gave a local hotel developer near the result a $158 million tax break, taxes many say were needed for parks and libraries lacking in the poorer section of town

Mitch Caldwell, a member of SOAR and Anaheim's Neighborhood Association, says he understands some residents are angry. But poverty, not race, is the problem.

MITCH CALDWELL: The city is not racist. This city is economically divided. We stuck the poor people over here and the rich people up there. And when we keep bringing it up, maybe this will be the only good thing that comes out of this.

KAHN: Late yesterday, Disney said it will support a plan to break up Anaheim's citywide elections into districts.

Carrie Kahn, NPR News.

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