Police meet with Hispanic residents Slaying in Laurel last month prompts outreach effort

October 14, 1998|By Jamal E. Watson | Jamal E. Watson,SUN STAFF

Prompted by the beating death last month of a Salvadoran immigrant, Laurel police met last night with a handful of Hispanic residents and activists outside the Laurel area to discuss crime prevention and safety.

Police Chief Roy Gilmore scheduled the meeting as part of an effort to reach out to the Hispanic community.

"It's a challenge," said Gilmore, who expressed disappointment that more residents did not attend the meeting. "Many of these people want a job, a place to live. They want to know what we can do for them and may not have the time to come to a meeting like this we did not reach the people we wanted to reach."

Gilmore, with support from Mayor Frank P. Casula, scheduled the meeting after the Sept 4. beating of Gilberto Hernandez, 35, a father of five daughters who worked as a dishwasher in a Laurel restaurant.

The killing of Hernandez shocked this city of 20,000. Seven local teen-agers were arrested and charged as adults with murder, assault and armed robbery, and are being held at the Prince George's County Detention Center.

For weeks now, some Latino activists have speculated that Hernandez was beaten because he was an immigrant -- all seven accused teens are African-Americans. But Gilmore said the death of Hernandez was not based on ethnicity but instead was the result of a botched robbery.

While Laurel remains one of Maryland's safest communities with three homicides in the past three years and no reported incidents of hate crimes, police say recent attacks on Hispanic and Asian immigrants have been a great concern.

"We know that Hispanics have been targeted, but they do not report it," Gilmore said.

Gilmore said that Hispanics tend not to report these incidents because of language barriers, and fears that their immigration status will be revoked or the person they complain about will seek revenge.

Gilmore said he will work with city officials and community organizations to develop a plan so that the Police Department can address the safety issues of Laurel's Hispanic community.

"We know that there is some mistrust, and we want to try to get beyond those barriers," he said.

Pub Date: 10/14/98

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