Anaheim: Palais Road Residents See the Off-Duty Cop Incident A Little Differently

Apparently, Mayor Tom Tait, Councilman Jose Moreno and AUHSD Trustee Al Jabbar and the AnaheimBROS held a “healing” event Saturday morning (to which the media were, of course, invited), spreading woodchips around the playground and generally cleaning up Palm Lane Park, which is adjacent to the scene of the confrontation between a homeowner and a large group of teenagers in which the homeowner (an off-duty LAPD officer) was assaulted and subsequently discharged the pistol he was carrying into the ground. Two of the teens – including the one the homeowner was detaining in an apparent citizens arrest – were arrested. No charges have been filed against the homeowner.

Nothing wrong with pouring some oil on troubled waters. However, perhaps the mayor and the AUHSD’s political leadership should go beyond a conventional progressive “healing” exercise and consider this a “teaching moment” to honestly examine how their behavior of their students affects the residents of this neighborhood. At last week’s press conference, AUHSD Superintendent Mike Matsuda had a lot to say about the students’ feelings of safety, but concern for the feelings and safety address of these homeowners was in short supply among the press conference participants. They seemed more interested in expressing disgust with the actions of the homeowner and trying to inject race into the matter.

On Friday, I visited Palais Road and spent time talking with residents there, and in the process gained a broader perspective on the situation. Palais Road neighborhood is a mid-Sixties era tract of well-kept ranch homes. It’s clean and tidy and bespeaks pride of ownership. Many of the residents have lived there for a long time, and a number are original homeowners.

I asked for their thoughts about the incident and about the broader context in which it took place. Several homeowners pointed out their neighborhood is sandwiched between Loara High School and Palm Lane Elementary School, with Ball Junior High School nearby – and so they have a lot of students walking through the neighborhood – especially Loara students on their way to the new skate park at Palm Lane Park.

One homeowner said the kids are generally not a problem on occasions when they interact one-on-one. It’s when their in groups that there can be trouble. Another homeowner told me the teenagers are often rude and disrespectful and aren’t shy about tossing obscenities at them. One woman who has lived on the street for decades related how she came out in the morning to get her newspaper in the morning and came upon two teenagers laying on top of each other on her lawn, making out. Another long-time homeowner voiced his opinion that Mayor Tom Tait and Chief Raul Quezada were “throwing the [off-duty cop] under the bus.”

The new skate park at Palm Lane Park came in for particular criticism for becoming a magnet for large groups of unsupervised teenagers hanging around, smoking pot, drinking and generally being rude and disrespectful to residents. A woman who has lived in her house next to the park for 20 years looked at me, put her thumb and forefingers together and told me she was “this close” to selling her house because of the delinquent behavior of teenagers at the park. She said they sit on the curb and smoke pot and if a neighbor challenges them and asks them to stop, the teens tell them to “f—k off.” Judging by my conversations of Palais Road residents, some form of the F-bomb was the common response by groups of teenagers passing through when confronted by corrective requests from residents.

A long-time homeowner told me that when city staff met with the neighborhood to discuss plans for a skate park, they and other homeowners were all opposed due to concern it would attract a large concentration of unsupervised teenage boys. They were told that the people who lived in nearby apartments wanted the skate park, and so it was going in.

“Who cares what I think,” he said. “I’m just a taxpayer.”

It’s important to understand there was already an issue with anti-social behavior by teenagers in the park before the skate park was installed – including skateboarding on private property. The intent was to mitigate that by concentrating that activity in a public skate facility, and afford residents in more crowded living conditions another recreational outlet. Welcome to the world of unintended consequences: concentrating a large numbers of unsupervised teenagers – particularly male teenagers – can lead to trouble, especially when inculcating the virtues of respect for adults, for authority and for private property no longer seems to be a priority in our public institutions (and apparently in a too many families).

As I stood on the sidewalk talking to some homeowners, a man who looked about 30ish pulled up, lowered his wondow and said in a lecturing, condescending tone, “You know it was wrong what that guy did, don’t you? You know it’s illegal to fire a hand gun” – as if these folks were somehow the guilty parties. He glowered at us for a few seconds before driving away.

“Yeah. Thanks,” muttered one of the residents bemusedly.

The Anaheim Union High School District very publicly embraced Mayor Tait’s “Kindness” initiative, but my conversations with Palais Road residents led me to question the efficacy of this initiative in terms of positively altering behavior.  Perhaps a follow-up Million Acts of Respect and Civility campaign in order to teach such basic elements of good citizenship as respecting private property and not telling old people to “f–k off” when they ask you to stop smoking pot in the park or walking on their property.

It’s my understanding the off-duty officer had an ongoing issue with these teenagers walking across his front, which is a salient at a sharp bend in Palais Road enroute to the park. It’s also my understanding he had previously complained to the city about this behavior, and that he came out to confront these teenagers on Tuesday after they had told his father – the elderly bearded man with the cane seen in the videos – to “f–k off.” It’s reasonable for a son to be concerned about the safety of his disabled dad who is surrounded by a couple dozen surly teenagers.

On the other hand, entering the fray with a pistol shoved into his waistband showed poor judgment. It has to be infuriating when one is continuously confronted with a surly pack of teenagers who don’t really care about respecting you or your property. But the officer had other options: turning on the sprinklers or even a hose would have been a better response to rude teenagers who ignored requests to stay off his property; or once again calling the police and hoping that would produce resolution to the problem.

At the same time, these teenagers are old enough to know better. They’re young adults. Sure, the part of the brain governing judgment and impulse control isn’t fully developed in teenagers. Still, they ought to know enough to respect other people’s property. They ought to know better than to curse at an old man who asks them to stay on the sidewalk.

The usual suspects piling on this incident have been pointing to the ages of the teenagers involved, as if that is a prima facie excuse.  The woman who earlier told me was close to selling her home had no patience for that argument: “A 15-year old murdered my son.”

Mayor Tait, the AUHSD superintendent and progressives have focused their ire and outrage on the actions of the off-duty officer and have little or nothing to say about the behavior of the pack of male teenagers. It’s clear they would like to see this man prosecuted.

So what conclusion do they expect these homeowners to draw? Mayor Tait said he saw in the video a grown man wrestling with a teenager and then firing his gun. Palais Road homeowners saw more than that; they saw one of their neighbors surrounded by a two dozen hostile teenage males who had began tackling him and trying to punch him.  These are the same teenagers who come through this neighborhood every day. So what conclusion are the residents supposed to draw when the mayor and others focus on their neighbor and ignore the behavior of the teenagers?  These homeowners are the people who have for decades have provided Anaheim neighborhoods with the “social muscle” the mayor and Councilman Moreno like to talk about. Yet, their concerns are brushed aside. Whose side do they think the city is on?

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