July 21, 2012. Police observe three men in a car. These men appear “suspicious” to police. When the police approach the men, they flee. The police chase after one man in particular, Manuel Angel Diaz. The chase ends when the police shoot the man in the back of the head. The man dies. He is 25 years old.
What is notable is not the fact of the police execution, unfortunately: police murder is an all-too-common event in communities of color. But the quickness of local residents’ reaction against the police — the manifestation of area residents’ aversion to the police, their utter distrust and hostility — is exemplary. Within hours, local residents gather; some throw rocks and bottles at police. Police shoot the crowd with bean bags and pepper balls, and release a canine on a mother and her child. The police reaction to the crowd is not surprising. The only hope is that area residents respond in kind. And they do. Helicopters shine spotlights on the crowds that remain in the streets. Small groups of people light dumpsters on fire.
July 22, 2012. A “gang officer” spots a “recognized gang member” in a stolen vehicle. The officers pursue the individual. Shots are exchanged, allegedly. The police kill 21-year-old Joel Acevedo. A handgun is found near the dead man, according to police.
The man who runs is shot in the back. The man who shoots back is also killed. The only certainty is death at the hands of the police.
The counter-insurgency mobilizes. By way of media accounts, the police murders become “incident[s].” Local government bureaucrats and ‘community leaders’ call for “investigations.” Investigations by the police, the district attorney, the FBI. The “truth” must be discerned. Media figures attempt to understand and explain the phenomena that took place in the streets. The police attempt to de-legitimize the uprising as the product of “outsiders” to the “community.” But the attempt fails when the police’s own statistics reveal that the arrestees from Saturday night were overwhelmingly from Anaheim. Making the necessary adjustments, the police identify the uprisings as the product of “gang members.” It is now the status of “gang member” that the police ascribe to any person whom is dealt state violence.
Meanwhile, the police prepare for war. The Anaheim Police Association publicly justifies the police murders. In response to the murmurs of uprising, the police increase their street patrols: “‘We have more officers on the street to preserve the peace,’ Anaheim police Chief John Welter said” according to the Orange County Register.
July 24, 2012. Hundreds converge at City Hall. City leaders abort the meeting when protests outside turn “violent.” Hundreds of protesters take the streets. They light dumpsters on fire and smash the windows of businesses. They throw bricks and even Molotovs at police. Police attack the unruly crowd with batons, rubber bullets, and pepper balls. The crowd refuses to disperse.
July 25, 2012. Manuel Diaz’s mother calls for a “peaceful justice” “within the law” to avenge her son’s death. But, with all due respect, this is an impossibility: the police murder within the law, and therefore by definition police cannot commit murder; they are immune, because in a very real sense, they are the law. “Guilt” and “innocence” are but two faces of the same coin. What’s at issue is who has the license of the State to kill. Those executed by police are, by necessity, guilty.
Concerned liberals set to work to figure out what went wrong — how could the crowd’s violence have been averted; how can the city reform its police so as to avoid widespread antipathy by the policed? Racists salivate at the idea of the State’s brute repression of brown people. The non-profits and community organizations attempt to intervene in the conflict: as the “representatives” of the community harboring the unruly crowd, they are valuable to the City in that they are entities the City can negotiate with and that communicate the (alleged) desires of the unruly crowd in a language the City understands. “Tourism officials” assure “tourists” that the uprisings are isolated occurrences — Disneyland is safe.
July 29, 2012. What is striking is not necessarily the police’s preparedness for war, but rather their obvious neglect to obscure their role as a counter-insurgency force. Thus, instead of donning the traditional riot uniform and the baton, the police wear military fatigues and are armed with rifles and less-than-lethal weapons that closely resemble grenade launchers. The image conjured is not South Central Los Angeles, 1992, but Afghanistan, 2012. Not urban riot, but urban insurgency. And next to the commando, there is the atavistic mounted police, reference to a past form of brute repression. In the shadow of the Happiest Place on Earth, we see that the police are not merely tasked with disciplining populations, but also with annihilating those who refuse to subordinate themselves to the State. Viewed with this lens, the police assassination of Emanuel Diaz was not an aberration, but the elimination of a body that would not submit to law — an entirely rational act within the logic of modern policing.
The Orange County Register vigorously extends the counter-insurgency operation, discovering that the outside-agitator narrative is appropriate for the situation. The headline for July 30, 2012, reads: “Most unruly protesters from outside Anaheim, police say: Seven of nine people arrested during Sunday’s demonstrations outside police headquarters live outside city limits.” “[M]any of those obscuring their faces with bandanas and carrying gas masks were not from Anaheim.” Those who come prepared to fight the police, and those who cannot be driven out by the violence of the police are discursively expelled from ‘the community.’ They are “from elsewhere.”
Ever adept, power understood the ineffectiveness of its calls for ‘dialogue’ after the “unruly” communicated their hatred of that-which-is in a cacophony of broken glass and burning dumpsters. Adjusting to Sunday’s events, power sanctified the ‘silent’ protesters who police themselves.
July 31, 2012. In the wake of the uprisings, power again attempts to blunt the active struggle through “dialogue.” The mayor of Anaheim visits the site of Diaz’s murder and “listens” to the concerns of area residents. Liberal-progressive groups demand more Latino representation on the city council. The slogan “Our Voices Count” sums up the counter-insurgency effort: creating channels for communicating with power, on the one hand, and directing the destructive popular rage into a quantitative dimension. The city council, in turn, convenes a special meeting to hear residents’ concerns: “City leaders recognize that there is a need for additional community dialogue and discussion.” “Members of the Anaheim community are invited to come and present their thoughts, ideas and recommendations on ways to help improve the city and its relationship with its people, their neighborhoods and their government.” How can we police you more effectively, power asks? Such is the nature of “constructive dialogue” between the police and policed, only to be surpassed by the question asked by the person colonized by power: how can we police ourselves?
And indeed there is a need to communicate — but only with each other, not them. And the communication called for is not of the sort mediated through the pages of the press or the councils of governing bodies. Communication takes the form of attack against mutual enemies. The bricks thrown at Anaheim police find their solidaric counterpart in the shattered windows of the police bar in downtown Oakland.