The mayor of Anaheim, the city in southern California where public anger over a spate of police shootings has sparked protests among the Latino community, has visited the site of the latest fatality in a show of solidarity with residents.
Tom Tait and city councilwoman Lorri Galloway heard concerns from residents on Tuesday night at the scene of the fatal shooting of Manuel Diaz, 25, who was shot two weeks ago during a police chase.
The major did not comment afterwards but Galloway told reporters they had a “broken community” and hoped the healing could begin. Tait also acknowledged the lack of representation of Latinos within the city leadership and said it was time for a change in the way officials are elected.
While much of the unrest has focused on relations between the Latino community and the police, activists say much of the tension stems from the lack of a voice on the city council.
Despite the city having a 54% Latino population, there are no Latino representatives on the council. “I think the time has come actually for districting,” Tait told KABC News. “Now there is good arguments for both, but just in good government sort of argument, it seems like districts make more sense. Most cities our size have districts.”
Community groups welcomed Tait’s comments but said that the quickest way to fair elections would be to settle a lawsuit filed in June which demands that Anaheim change its system to elect by districts rather than at large.
Eric Altman, executive director of Orange County Communities Organized for Responsible Development (Occord), said the current crisis highlights a city council out of touch with its community.
“It’s great to see that there is a growing awareness that Anaheim needs to move to district based election” he told the Guardian. “We’ll have to wait and see exactly what is being proposed. The fairest and quickest way to fair elections is to act now to settle the lawsuit.”
The lawsuit, filed in June by three Latino community leaders and the American Civil Liberties Union, claims the city is violating the state’s voting rights act and demands that Anaheim change its system to elect by districts rather than at-large.
Even if the city is divided into six districts, one plan reportedly being discussed by the council, it would still have less representation than all other Californian cities of similar size, including Oakland, Bakersfield and Riverside, according to Altman.
“There’s a lot of soul searching and hard analysis that has to happen about how to move forward in terms of police community relations but you can’t do that effectively if three council officials and the mayor live in Anaheim Hills and the other lives in the colony” he said.
Anaheim Hills is a wealthy part of the city, far from the troubled neighbourhoods where the shootings have occurred and where many Latinos say they live in fear of violence. Only three Latinos have ever served on the city council in its 142-year history – a by-product of the “at large” voting system which removes the obligation to hold local council seat elections district by district.
In a statement, Marisol Ramirez, a member of Occord, said: “They can’t fully understand the needs of neighborhoods like mine – that’s why we need every neighborhood to be represented on the city council.”
Occord has also called on the authorities to have a “long hard look” at the need for reform, including community policing and a police commission.
Two men, Manuel Diaz, 25, and Joel Acevedo, 21, were fatally shot by Anaheim police on the weekend of 21 July. Authorities said Diaz, who was unarmed, was avoiding arrest and that Acevedo had fired at officers during a foot chase.
Three investigations are now under way into the shooting of Diaz, including one by the FBI and the attorney general. An internal investigation by Anaheim police is also underway.
The city council will meet on 8 August, where leaders will consider a 6 November ballot measure to establish districts within the city. Protesters on Monday delivered a petition to the attorney general calling on him to investigate the violence police have allegedly used against people protesting the shootings.
A spokesperson for Kamala Harris, the attorney general, told KABC she will wait for the Orange County District Attorney’s Office to conclude its investigation before deciding if her office will look into the shootings.
Tait has already met with the US attorney’s office and the FBI and both have agreed to look into the officer-involved shootings. “There is no question that a timely and thorough investigation into the incidents in Anaheim is needed,” Shum Preston of Harris’s office said.
The deaths of Diaz and Acevedo bring to five the number of people killed by police shootings in Anaheim this year. There have been eight shootings in the city this year involving the police, according to officials.