News and views from the award-winning author of the Class H Trilogy: AMERICA LIBRE, HOUSE DIVIDED and PANCHO LAND

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Is Anaheim a Glimpse into the Future?

As income disparities continue to grow and demagogues keep pandering to the xenophobes, the events in Anaheim may become all too familiar. 


The city of Anaheim is suddenly in the national spotlight. The home of Disneyland, touted as the "happiest place on earth," has been the site of protests and civil disturbances for nearly two weeks. Most of those on the streets are Latinos. Most of them are poor. Most are the victims of gang violence and crime. Yet the cause of their rage is the city's police force.

The demonstrations began on July 21 after an unarmed Manuel Angel Diaz, 25 was first shot in the leg as he attempted to flee from the police and later shot in the head as he lay on the ground. Some witnesses claim the police did not immediately call for medical assistance. The Anaheim police reported Diaz was a known gang member.

The next day, Joel Acevedo, 21, was fatally shot by police after he fired at officers during a chase. The shootings of Diaz and Acevedo took the total number of police shootings in Anaheim to six through July of 2012, up from four in all of 2011. The conduct of the police in the shootings of Diaz and Acevedo may soon be under an FBI investigation.

The reaction in some quarters has been predictable. In thinly-veiled racist tones, they blame the protestors for being lawless supporters of the gangs. But civil disturbances do not happen in a vacuum.

When people take to the streets, there is usually a community-wide frustration that overcomes the natural tendency by most of us to get on with our lives. To be sure, protests are often exploited by opportunists with a political agenda. But, right or wrong, most of the local people protesting are sincerely outraged by what they perceive as callous behavior by the Anaheim police.

That's why I think an FBI investigation is in order. If the officers behaved correctly, they will be exonerated. If not, they will be disciplined. Either way, to accuse those protesting as being lawless misses the point. They live in the community and are the victims of gang violence and crime. But when they see the police as something even worse, then it's time to address that grievance. A closer look at Anaheim itself reveals what could be a deeper discontent.

There are two Anaheims. One is affluent and the other desperately poor. The poor section is predominantly Hispanic. The events in this divided city could be a harbinger of the future. As the nation continues on the path toward greater income disparity, we could see the growth of a frustrated underclass permanently trapped in the undertow of poverty.

I believe we can avoid that future. But when politicians choose to demonize the underprivileged and pander to xenophobic instincts rather than provide enlightened leadership, we may see the events in Anaheim become all too familiar.

My novels, AMERICA LIBRE and HOUSE DIVIDED, explore that worst-case future. It's a time when economic stresses and anti-immigrant hysteria fuel a Latino insurrection. In the novels, events like those in Anaheim are the spark that begins the uprising. I wrote these stories as a cautionary tale of the potential dangers we face. Seeing the novels appear prophetic is a chilling reminder that we need to turn away from this perilous path while we still have time.