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Blogger's mock sidewalk shrine for 'fallen teddy bear' draws ire in Anaheim

In this photo taken Wednesday, July 25, 2012, Palm trees frame the Anaheim City Hall in Anaheim, Calif.
In this photo taken Wednesday, July 25, 2012, Palm trees frame the Anaheim City Hall in Anaheim, Calif.
Damian Dovarganes/AP

A maimed teddy bear is at the center of a controversy in Anaheim, where a civic affairs blogger is accused of mocking sidewalk memorials set up by Latino residents to honor victims of officer-involved shootings. The post has outraged residents in a city rocked by a string of police shootings in recent years in which several young men have died, most of them Latino.

At issue is a Dec. 12 post in the "Anaheim Blog" in which blogger Matt Cunningham posted photos of a teddy bear with its face torn off - one of them beside a candle of the Virgin of Guadalupe with the caption, 'A make-shift shrine stands vigil over the fallen teddy bear.'

For parents of shooting victims, it wasn't funny. From a story in Voice of OC, which linked to the since-removed original post:

Cunningham posted it on Dec. 12, the day after Theresa Smith -- whose 35-year-old son, Caesar Cruz, was killed by police in 2009 -- held a candlelight vigil for her son outside the Anaheim Police Department. The grieving mother said Cunningham’s message is clear: Poor Latinos aren’t human beings; the deaths of their children and their religious traditions are merely jokes.

“You’re making fun of me losing a child, having to bury him,” Smith said. “I’m outraged. I’m absolutely outraged.”

The post in the "Anaheim Blog," which Voice of OC reports is funded by the Anaheim Chamber of Commerce, went on to mock reaction to the shootings (Voice of OC has archived a PDF of the post here). In particular, the back-to-back shootings of two young Latino men in July 2012 sparked angry protests; in the longer term, these incidents also prompted attempts to increase Latino residents' representation in city government.

Anaheim Blog's Facebook post on the story

The latter is the subject of a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union, which accuses the city of violating the California Voting Rights Act. In his teddy-bear post, Cunningham mentioned by name one of the plaintiffs in the ACLU lawsuit:

The left-wing agitation group reacted by blaming racial profiling and brutality campaign by the Anaheim Police Department targeting people of color.

Dr. Jose F. Moreno called for a series of community meetings to discuss the impact of this violence on an inclusive roster of stakeholders and for the formation of a city task force to explore ways to increase teddy bear participation in Anaheim municipal government, suggesting this tragedy could have been prevented if the city council were elected from single-member districts.

Cunningham's post quickly drew reaction, some openly hostile. The post was updated with a "note to readers" offering this explanation:

A few humorless leftists have read the post and taken exception, so let me say a few things. I found the teddy bear as is on the sidewalk (the candles being the only added touch) – never touched it, never moved it. This post is satire.

Which didn't do much to quell the controversy. People have continued posting angry reactions, some defending Cunningham, others along the lines of (as posted by "Corie"):

Wow matt.. U call it a joke.. I call it real facts.. My brother was that teddy bear killed by anaheim..

Cunningham eventually took down the post. He explained his decision on Anaheim Blog, writing in a new post that that the teddy-bear piece "was intended as satire of the tendency of leftists to claim tragedies of violence as evidence of this or that underlying systemic social injustice, and then to exploit them to push political/policy agendas."

Not that it's put the matter to rest, as his explanation has continued drawing comments on the site like this one posted Monday night:

You’re still a bigot.

To which Cunningham replied:

My wife is a bilingual Mexican immigrant. I sang to her in Spanish at our wedding. My four daughters all have Mexican nationality. I have thoroughly embraced Mexican culture and my large extended family by marriage. I have always advocated for more liberal immigration laws and opposed restrictionism. I support normalizing those illegal immigrants who are here and devising a path for them that ultimately leads to citizenship. I have always argued that immigration from Mexico and Central America is good for this country. But somehow you think I am a bigot.

KPCC reached out to Cunningham, who has yet to reply, and to the Anaheim Chamber of Commerce. A spokesman from the chamber replied but declined to comment.

This story has been updated.