For Hispanics in Annapolis, rising crime a grim fact of life


At El Ranchero Mercado Latino in Annapolis, several Hispanic men report that they have been held up this year - one robbed of groceries, another shot at, another punched.

None told police, the men said through an interpreter one fall afternoon. None gave their names to a reporter.

The grocery store's owner, Rolando Zayas, says some of his friends have been robbed, too, and most have not reported it. Asked why, he shrugged - a language barrier, a lack of trust, a belief that only aggravation and deportation, but nothing good, can result.

"They say it is part of living here," he said.

An alarming number of Hispanic immigrants have been robbed in recent months as the state capital has become a place where Spanish-speaking newcomers are considered easy targets. Hispanic immigrants have reported more than two dozen assaults and robberies since spring, Annapolis police said.

But police believe the real number is more than twice that. The crimes fit a longtime pattern across the country, affecting Hispanics, who are widely viewed as easy prey because many carry cash, do not use banks and show reluctance to report crime.

Around the region, Latino advocacy organizations, police and banks say they are trying to bridge cultural and language barriers, to encourage banking and crime prevention, and to persuade newcomers to talk to police.

On his Spanish-language local cable television show and in fliers, Gus Caballero, the Hispanic community liaison for the Annapolis Police Department, warns against carrying large amounts of cash, and explains that community safety is helped by reporting problems so police can try to make arrests.

"The fact that you are Hispanic, and if you are here illegally, that gives someone license to beat you or attack you or rob you? No," Caballero said.

He has met with segments of the city's Latino and African-American communities, and hopes for more such gatherings. The larger fear, Caballero said, is that street crime could escalate into outward enmity between blacks and Latinos in the city.

Annapolis police said the teens arrested after three robberies in mid-October told them they figured the men who had just left work had cash. The assumption is common, because some Hispanic workers are paid in cash and don't trust or use banks.

Many Latinos struggle with a language barrier and an apprehension about police, experts say, their concerns fueled by fears of deportation and shakedowns, worries that attackers will exact revenge on their families, a sense that it is better not to draw attention from authorities and that officers don't care about someone who speaks little English. But local police say they don't care about a victim's immigration status and that they will take crime reports in Spanish.

"The word is out that these people carry cash, they can't open bank accounts, they can't store money - their money is in cash," said Charles H. Kuck, vice president of the American Immigration Lawyers Association. "This is an ongoing problem."

In September, six farmworkers in Georgia were killed in a pre-dawn attack, after about 20 homes of Hispanics were invaded over three months. Authorities believe the Hispanic workers were targeted for their cash, according to news accounts.

Caballero said Annapolis police started noticing more robberies with Hispanic victims several months ago.

"It was mostly street criminals," he said. "They were getting assaulted and robbed."

Among the crimes reported:

On Sept. 18, a couple were walking home from work when they were attacked near a park along Weems Creek in Annapolis. Soccer players heard the commotion and held one suspect, described another suspect and showed police where he ran. Albert Sublet IV of Annapolis is scheduled for trial next month in that incident and in the robbery of a young Hispanic man, court records show.

A man claiming to be a police officer persuaded a Hispanic couple to let him into their Glen Burnie home July 30 and took cash.

Joshua Hatch of Annapolis is scheduled for trial next month in the case, according to court records. Anne Arundel County police said the victim came close to not reporting the robbery, waiting seven hours, because of his experiences in Mexico with corrupt officers.

On Nov. 13, a Hispanic man was robbed at gunpoint of more than $300 cash in Annapolis after leaving work at night. No one has been arrested, police said.

Assailants "are playing on the fact that [the victims] do work, they are coming from work. They are vulnerable, they are coming by themselves, or they can't speak English, or their vocabulary is not that broad. And physically, they figure they can overwhelm them," said Annapolis police Cpl. David Garcia.

Reynaldo Pineda, who was robbed and shot at Feb. 3 near his Annapolis home, said through an interpreter: "A lot of us are afraid we will be victims of crime because people think [Hispanics] carry a lot of cash and won't report it.

"They probably bother Hispanics more, but they probably bother everyone," he said.

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