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Anaheim protest: Mother of '09 shooting victim calls for peaceful rally

July 29, 2012 |  2:41 pm

As a crowd gathered in front of the Anaheim police station Sunday to protest the death of Manuel Diaz, an unarmed suspect who was fatally shot by officers last weekend, some urged the group to remain peaceful.

"I'm not asking, I'm demanding," Theresa Smith, 65, told the crowd via megaphone. Smith is the mother of another man who was fatally shot by Anaheim police three years ago.

More than 250 people gathered in front of the Anaheim Police Department on Sunday, waving signs that read “Stop the racist police” and chanting "Am I next?"

Smith's son, Caesar Cruz, was shot and killed by police in 2009 at the age of 35. In the years since, Smith has participated in weekly protests outside police headquarters — a role she assumed again Sunday.

"We're advocates for our loved ones. This is what we do," she said, wearing a T-shirt that read "In loving memory of my son."

"I didn't start this out of vengeance," she continued. "I started this because I love my son."

Smith acknowledged that the community is "outraged" after Diaz's death and the clash with police that followed. But she said Tuesday's demonstration — where an estimated 1,000 protesters clashed with police outside a packed City Council meeting, damaging buildings and prompting officers to use less-than-lethal rounds — brought "very negative attention" to demonstrators and the city.

"But it's their anger and I understand the years of frustration," she said. "It's not right. I don't condone it, but I understand it."

Shortly after Smith addressed the crowd, protesters began marching down south Harbor Boulevard, followed by a handful of police cars and motorcycles.

Sunday was the latest in a series of demonstrations staged in Orange County's largest city in the wake of two fatal police shootings.

The crowd drew honks of support from cars driving by as a dozen police officers on horseback looked on.

Diaz, 25, was shot and killed by police on July 21. Authorities said the unarmed man was avoiding arrest.

The fatal officer-involved shooting was the first of two that occurred that weekend; a day after Diaz was killed, Anaheim police shot and killed Joel Acevedo, 21, who authorities say fired on officers during a foot chase.

A third officer-involved shooting, this one on Friday in which police opened fire on a burglary suspect, who was unhurt, marked the city's seventh such shooting this year, five of which have been fatal. The city had four officer-involved shootings in all of 2011.


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— Matt Stevens in Anaheim and Kate Mather in Los Angeles