Certainly, the Latino community of Anaheim is familiar with this territory. Orange County and Anaheim authorities have promised investigations of the two recent police shootings. The FBI is reviewing the shootings and the U.S. Attorney's office has agreed to conduct an investigation at the request of Anaheim's civilian authorities. Those authorities -- the mayor and five-member city council -- are all Anglo, while Hispanics constitute about 52% of that city's 336,000 residents. There is no civilian complaint review board in place to conduct any probe of police actions, no independent group gathering information over time. The family of Manuel Diaz has filed a federal civil rights suit in the case and called for community calm as protestors become increasingly restive.
"There is a racial and economic component to this shooting," said Dana Douglas, a Diaz family attorney. "Police don't roust white kids in affluent neighborhoods who are just having a conversation. And those kids have no reason to fear police. But young men with brown skin in poor neighborhoods do. They are targeted by police."
Post-9/11 Money Is No Help
The last decade, of course, has seen an enormous flow of federal counterterrorism money to local police and law enforcement agencies. Since 9/11, the Department of Homeland Security has allocated $30 to $40 billion to local police for all manner of training programs and equipment upgrades. Other federal funding has also been freely dispensed.
Yet for all the beefing up of post-9/11 visual surveillance, communications, and Internet-monitoring capabilities, for all the easing of laws governing searches and wiretaps, law enforcement authorities failed to pick up on the multiple weapons purchases, the massive Internet ammo buys, and the numerous package deliveries to the dark apartment in the building on Paris Street where preparations for the Aurora massacre took place for months.
Orange County, where Manuel Diaz lived, now has a fleet of seven armored vehicles. SWAT officers turn out in 30 to 40 pounds of gear, including ballistic helmets, safety goggles, radio headsets with microphones, bulletproof vests, flash bangs, smoke canisters, and loads of ammunition. The Anaheim police and other area departments are networked by countywide Wi-Fi. They run their own intelligence collection and dissemination center. They are linked to surveillance helicopters.
The feds have also anted up for extensive police training for Anaheim officers. In fact, Anaheim and Orange County have received about $100 million from the federal government since 2002 to bring operations up to twenty-first century speed in the age of terror. Yet for all that money, training, and equipment, police still managed to shoot and kill a running unarmed man in the back, just as NYPD officers shot unarmed Liberian-born Amadou Diallo after chasing him up his Bronx apartment building steps in February of 1999.
Diallo was infamously shot 41 times after pulling his wallet from his pocket, apparently to show identification. Police thought it was a gun. The shooting precipitated national protests and acquittals in a subsequent trial of the police officers involved. The year Diallo was killed was also the year of the Columbine massacre, 20 miles from Aurora. It seems like only last week.
Since that time the nation as a whole has become poorer and less white, while police departments everywhere are building up their capabilities and firepower with 9/11-related funding. Gun ownership of almost any sort has been cemented into our American world as a constitutional right and a partial ban on purchases of assault weapons lapsed in 2004, thanks to congressional inaction. This combination of trends should make everyone uneasy.
Stephan Salisbury is cultural writer for the Philadelphia Inquirer and a TomDispatch regular. His most recent book is Mohamed's Ghosts: An American Story of Love and Fear in the Homeland. To listen to Timothy MacBain's latest Tomcast audio interview in which Salisbury discusses the lack of good numbers on police shootings and why they are so poorly covered, click here or download it to your iPod here.
[Note: Bureau of Justice Statistics data on the demographics of arrest-related deaths can be found by clicking here.]
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Copyright 2012 Stephan Salisbury