For Latinos, Anaheim gang sweep rubs riots’ wounds. Should police have waited?
Schuyler Velasco (Christian Science Monitor) | August 14, 2012
For the police in Anaheim, where the rates for murder and crime in general have soared over the past year, the gang sweep was an operation that could not wait.
But for many residents of the mostly Latino neighborhoods where the sweep took place, the police action last Friday, dubbed “Operation Halo,” was just a power play following a riot-filled July and early August.
Whether the operation achieves the stated goal of reducing crime in California’s 10th-largest city remains to be seen, but for the time being, the residents’ bitter reaction points to a deep mistrust of city officials that is lingering weeks after the fatal police shootings that sparked the riots.
The police sweep Friday, a massive sting operation targeting a group known as the Eastside Anaheim gang, resulted in the arrests of 33 purported gang members. In addition to the arrests, the department’s Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms seized 40 guns and nearly 12 pounds of crystal methamphetamine.
According to police, crime in the affected neighborhoods was so bad that the sweep couldn’t wait, even though communities here are still reeling from the violent riots sparked by a series of officer-involved shootings in recent weeks.
“We decided we couldn’t put this off any longer,” Anaheim Police Chief John Welter said in a Friday press conference detailing the operation. “We can’t wait until another person gets shot.”
But while the department acknowledged the potentially problematic timing of the crackdown (saying it even considered a delay), residents see it as retaliation.
“I think they’re doing a payback to the community,” insists Yecenia Rojas, who lives in the Anna Drive neighborhood of west Anaheim next door to the small apartment building where an officer shot and killed Manuel Diaz, a local man who police say had gang ties. “They’re trying to tell us that they’re the ones that control Anaheim. They want us to be afraid.”
“We’ve been asking police to stay out of our neighborhoods for now, because this isn’t a good time,” says Martin Lopez, a community organizer and recording secretary for Unite Here! Local 11, a union representing hotel and restaurant workers. “People feel the police are coming in and making fun of them, that this is a retaliation for all of the press, all of the attention that is being called out on Anaheim.
“These police units, they know who gang members are,” he adds. “They know precisely where they live, they can wait and arrest these guys any time. No. They come in and tear down your doors, destroy people’s homes. So not only are they not helping, but they come in and make them feel worse.”
Ms. Rojas, a leader and self-described “big mouth” of the tightly knit Anna Drive community, has known most of the men arrested on the street for years – some from the time they were small children.
Photo credit: Alex Gallardo/Reuters
Tags: Anaheim riot, ATF, crystal methamphetamine, Eastside Anaheim gang, gang sweep, latino neighborhoods, officer-involved shootings, Operation Halo, unions, Unite Here! Local 11