It's been a tough week for Anaheim.
On Saturday, a Ku Klux Klan rally planned for the city's Pearson Park erupted in violence, leading to six arrests, at least three hospitalizations and a good deal of criticism of the response — or lack thereof — by Anaheim police.
A Ku Klux Klan leader who was injured said Monday stoked those concerns when he said that he'd called police beforehand asking for security and was told, "We don't do that."
AirTalk spoke with Anaheim Mayor Tom Tait, as well as professor and former NYPD officer Eugene O'Donnell on what Anaheim officers did right and wrong in responding to the event.
First of all, I’m sure you’re very disappointed to see this happen in your city. Your reflections on this. What happened?
Mayor Tom Tait: Boy, you know, you’re right. Of course I didn’t like to see this in my city. And to see the images go literally worldwide. It is not an accurate reflection at all of who we are in Anaheim and the good people who live here. Anaheim is one of the most ethnically diverse cities in the United States and everyone gets a long really well and we’re a city of respect and tolerance and kindness and that wasn’t what was shown. I’m very upset about what happened.
A couple of things have been called into question by your city’s police department, one of which is alerting the public that the Klansmen were going to be there for this and wondering whether that sort of threw red meat out to those who would come and protest. The other issue is one of the Klansman said they had asked for police to be there out of fear that there would be violence at the event – as people responded to them.
First of all, should there have been more police on the scene when the Klansmen arrived and secondly, did the police do the right thing by publicizing this?
Mayor Tom Tait: Well, they're complicated issues and questions. And of course, I wasn’t there and I'm not a police officer and don’t know what tactics are, so I’m very hesitant to be critical... In hindsight, obviously something didn’t go well.
I can tell you that there were police officers there. If you went out to Pearson Park, you’d realize what a big park it is. The way I understand it, the car pulled up and that’s when things started and the police were at a different area in the park, but they did respond once things started happening they got there quickly — as quickly as they could. Which is not easy.
It’s a tough job. It’s not an easy job to run into a violent situation, but that’s what these guys did.
In a case like this, what sort of a police presence is usually called for?
Eugene O'Donnell: I think this really underscores something we’ve talked about, which is proactive policing has sort of got a bad name. I’m not saying that’s what happened here — I agree with the mayor, you don’t want to take cheap shots and second guess. But an inquiry should go into this. When the KKK announces that they’re going to be somewhere, with that comes the likelihood of violence, not so much that they’ll engage in violence but people will engage in violence against them.
There shouldn’t be any hesitation in policing that adequately, gathering intelligence information and having secondary plans should it really get out of control. And I’m not saying this occurred in Anaheim, but it does seems awfully like the climate right now for the police is that it’s better for them, as a political matter, to get there after everything is over than to run the risk of being criticized for proactively involving themselves.
With this camera generation now, people on both sides are criticizing police response. Police officers and chiefs often are afraid of giving these people what they want, which is often a provocative exchange, that’s captured on video. So, it’s an awfully difficult time for police to get this balance right….the KKK has the First Amendment right to at least engage in non-violent speech and that has to be upheld, as much as people find that unpalatable.
Tom Tait, Mayor of Anaheim
Eugene O’Donnell, Professor of law and police science at John Jay College of Criminal Justice; former NYPD officer; former prosecutor in Kings County, New York
Note: This interview has been edited for clarity.
This story has been updated.