Anaheim’s ‘Outside Agitators’?

BAMN protesters

Just after 5 p.m. on Aug. 1, fewer than a dozen protesters from Los Angeles-based activist group By Any Means Necessary (BAMN) gathered on Anna Drive in front of the colorfully decorated Manuel Diaz memorial, a cross-shaped collection of votive candles, family photographs and flowers. As the anti-police-brutality group planned to march from the site where the 24-year-old Diaz was shot by Anaheim police on July 21, about five television news stations began broadcasting the protest. That’s when 34-year-old Anna Drive resident Yesenia Rojas apparently decided she’d had enough.
“We don’t want them here; they’re not from around here,” she declared as she put on an orange safety vest. “They are not respecting the Anna Drive community. We don’t need any more trouble; we have enough already.”

Rojas wasn’t kidding about trouble. On the same day Diaz was shot, police shot her with a beanbag gun, wounding her in her lower stomach as she was trying to save her son and grandchild from a snarling K-9 police dog in the now-infamous video of the aftermath of the Diaz shooting, which showed Anaheim officers firing beanbag rounds and Pepperball guns and unleashing the dog after residents gathered to object to the shooting of the unarmed man. The next night, Anaheim policemen shot and killed another man, Joel Acevedo, in the Guinida Lane neighborhood, which led to escalated protests throughout the city.

Rojas’ reaction to the activist group was a stark contrast to the protest in front of Anaheim City Hall on July 24, where Rojas led a group of demonstrators into the lobby while chanting on a bullhorn. Rojas has labor-organizing experience, which has led her to be the most vocal of the neighborhood during protests.

“Do we want these kind of cops in Anaheim?” she asked protesters after they stormed the lobby.

“No!” the crowd roared back.

One week later, Rojas called out to her neighbors, “Do we want these people here?” in response to BAMN’s gathering.

A small group of residents said, “No!” A few others yelled, “Go home, gringos!” to television reporters hounding bystanders.

Emily Ruiz, a former Anaheim resident, looked visibly shaken and offended by residents’ rejection of the protest. “I’m not disturbing anyone. I’m speaking my mind,” she says, adding that she went to school with Diaz and other victims of police shootings.

Anaheim Police Chief John Welter blamed “outside agitators” for the riots on July 24. Though groups such as Occupy and ANSWER LA—Act Now to End War and Racism, which was formed almost a decade ago in response to the U.S. Invastion of Iraq—were at the demonstration, the marches in the street consisted mainly of Latino youth, visibly upset and frustrated at police brutality and harassment. Of the 24 people arrested, 20 were from Anaheim. It is still unclear who caused the vandalism or the dozen fires throughout the city.

Meanwhile, two groups have made their presence known in the Anna Drive neighborhood, seeking to radicalize local youths in the aftermath of the tragedy: the Revolutionary Communist Party (RCP) and the aforementioned BAMN. The Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action, Integration and Immigrant Rights and Fight for Equality By Any Means Necessary (a.k.a. BAMN) formed in 1995 in response to the UC Regents’ decision to ban affirmative action. In recent years, the group has taken on police brutality in communities with people of color, most notably the police-shooting death of Oscar Grant in Oakland.

BAMN organizer Adam Lerman spent the weeks following Diaz’s death talking to residents. From his conversations, Lerman says, the neighborhood seems conflicted as to how to move forward. “They are of two minds: Do we go public and try to be bold? Or do we keep quiet and hope justice is served?”

As the group rallies for oft-ignored communities, the recent riots and subsequent media attention have made the task different from others. BAMN’s planned march followed the same route Mayor Tom Tait took the previous night, his first visit to Anna Drive since the shooting.

Lerman defended the groups’ action, saying he doesn’t see a separation between the grieving process and justice. “Families and communities aren’t able to move on until justice is done,” he says. “If we can get the neighborhood to step up to be leaders, we can turn things around. The city government knows and fears the power this neighborhood has to do so. If we don’t keep marching, if we don’t keep fighting, nothing is going to come out of these investigations they are promising.”

Keith James, along with three other members of the RCP, came to the community from Los Angeles to speak and listen to residents several times in the couple of weeks following the shooting. “When everyone talks about ‘outside agitators,’ they are worried about the [protester] violence,” he says. “After listening to the heartfelt outpouring of residents grappling with the magnitude of the situation, it seems absurd to equate that with the police violence that has occurred in this community.”

James, who handed out leaflets and literature about the radical teachings of Bob Avakian, sees Anaheim as a breeding ground for the widespread revolution the party’s founder discusses in his writings. As its name suggests, the RCP promotes an overthrow of capitalism and United States imperialism in favor of a Communist revolution.

“We’re Communists, so everywhere we go, people are wrestling with what we have to say,” he says. “People got attacked, and one person is murdered in this neighborhood, and now they want to fight back; they want to come up with solutions. So we talk about alternatives to the broken system we live in.”

But residents interviewed by the Weekly were not happy with those outsiders trying to convert them to their views. “I was fine with them at first, but they took it too far,” Mariano Macedo says of the groups, such as RCP, who were “swooping in.” “They kept saying to us, ‘So let’s meet up again and talk more,’ and I was like, ‘Nah, it’s cool.’ I’d just end up questioning their motives and asking things they don’t like.”

The protests have simmered all over the city, which has led the Anna Drive neighborhood to become more guarded as it mourns Diaz. A resident who asked to be identified as Eddie says he embraced the protests against police brutality and the groups trying to help, but he complains that the media attention in response deprives residents of privacy during a difficult time.

“The media is patrolling us now just as much as the cops,” he says, pointing to four news vans parked nearby. “We don’t have much else to say; I think we’ve already gotten our point across: We want justice. But we want respect, too.”

This article appeared in print as “The Revolution Will Not Be Tolerated: Just how numerous—or welcome—are Anaheim’s ‘Outside Agitators’?” in the print edition of OC Weekly Aug. 9, 2012

Amber Stephens