United Survivors of Anaheim March on Anna Drive

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Anna Dr. Christmas Tree
With storm clouds looming overhead, about fifty people gathered at the corner of Anna Drive and La Palma Avenue in Anaheim for a rally and march in memory of Manuel Diaz on Sunday. It was the latest action marking a shift in strategy for family members and activists organizing in the wake of the city's contentious officer-involved shootings.

Instead of lining up along the sidewalk of Harbor Boulevard in front of the Anaheim Police Department, as had been the site of weekly protests for months, and even years, a series of rotating demonstrations at the actual site of the killings themselves are now taking place.

Anna Drive was, of course, the scene where Diaz, 25 years old, was gunned down by officer Nick Bennallack on July 21 setting off long simmering tensions and days of angry protests. Lawyers for the city, Police Chief John Welter and Bennallack contend that the shooting was justified, but Genevieve Huizar, Diaz's mother, doesn't see it that way as she held signs Sunday demanding justice for her son.

"He didn't have a weapon, he didn't have drugs. He wasn't doing a crime and yet they want to justify it," she says. "We're here to say that they're wrong." Huizar was not alone. She was supported by the presence of other grieving mothers and family members who have rechristened themselves as the United Survivors of Anaheim (USA).

"It's a fresh new start for us because there's been problems in the past," says Sonia Hernandez, whose brother Martin Angel Hernandez was shot and killed by an Anaheim patrol officer back in March. "We're still Anaheim Cruzaders at heart, but this is a new formation."

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gabriel san roman / OC Weekly
Anna Drive on the march

The rotating, reinvigorating and perhaps unprecedented protests started a month ago at the Wakefield alley where the Hernandez shooting took place. "Why don't we hit the streets? Why don't we go to the neighborhoods, march and wake up the people again?" she says of the core questions guiding the new direction. Since that first demonstration, subsequent actions have taken place on Guinida Lane where 21 year-old Joel Acevedo was killed the day after Diaz and off the corner of Sunkist and Ball for slain 22 year-old Marcel Ceja

"Every family gets one vote," Hernandez says explaining how decisions are made with the mothers leading the way. "Everything is equal."

Protests outside of the police headquarters had dwindled down to turnouts of about a dozen or so sign-holders, sometimes even less, as summer gave way to fall."There's been more people coming from the neighborhoods now," Hernandez says as cars pass by Anna Drive honking in support. "They see us and at first they don't know what we're doing. We usually talk to them and explain to them. They have our back."

Both Huizar and Hernandez are in accord as to the awareness raising aspect of their efforts. "We want justice, we want accountability and they keep brushing us off," Huizar says, "Wait for the investigation is what they say." The Anaheim police are also aware of the protests. A patrol car pulled up to the alley of Anna Drive as an officer got out to speak with Huizar offering his services to help keep the peace, but as the families are united, they set off on an entirely peaceful and spirited march towards East Street and back.

Next Sunday's action is in the works as USA hopes to grow as an organization. A candlelight vigil for Caesar Cruz is already planned for December 11 at 6 p.m. in the southwest parking lot of the Anaheim Plaza Walmart where he was killed three years ago on that day in an officer-involved fusillade of bullets.

"We're going to continue Sunday after Sunday, rain or shine," Huizar affirms. "We are united. We are the United Survivors of Anaheim."

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