Latinos fear increasing crime against community

In an East Baltimore neighborhood, distress after fatal beating of Honduran man

  • Elizabeth Alex, lead organizer for CASA de Maryland, says she wrote the mayor’s office about the apparent targeting of Latinos.
Elizabeth Alex, lead organizer for CASA de Maryland, says she… (Jed Kirschbaum, Baltimore…)
August 23, 2010|By Nick Madigan and Peter Hermann, The Baltimore Sun

Concern over crime against Latinos, already simmering in Baltimore as a result of several attacks in recent weeks, has reached new heights after the fatal beating over the weekend of a 51-year-old man from Honduras.

Martin Reyes — whose killing early Saturday was attributed by police to a mentally troubled man who said he hated "Mexicans" — was the fifth Latino shooting or homicide victim in the area in less than two months, officials said. All the victims were Honduran, according to residents, and one was Reyes' nephew, Juan de Dios Hernandez, 27, who was shot in the forehead July 24.

"We're afraid that they're trying to finish off the Hispanics," said Anibal Rodriguez, 30, a Honduran laborer who moved to Baltimore five years ago and who was sitting Monday morning on steps of a house across Kenwood Avenue from where Reyes died. Rodriguez echoed a common view that some Latinos fear reporting crimes to the police because many are in the United States illegally.

City officials appear to be scrambling to address the Latino community's concerns. Police Commissioner Frederick H. Bealefeld III and Deputy Mayor Christopher Thomaskutty plan to join members of the clergy and leaders of the NAACP and other organizations at a news conference Tuesday in Patterson Park to call attention to the violence.

A spokesman for Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake said she is "deeply troubled by the recent attacks" and that her staff was working with CASA de Maryland, a community action group, to arrange a public meeting Monday at the Church of the Resurrection on East Fayette Street. The Police Department will be heavily represented, he said.

"The mayor's office is reaching out to the Latino community to encourage participation and attendance," said the spokesman, Ryan O'Doherty. "We plan to have Spanish-speaking officers and district commanders at the meeting to discuss public safety strategies and to increase the community's collaboration with our police officers."

Elizabeth Alex, the CASA group's lead organizer, said she had written a letter to the mayor's office weeks ago expressing concern about the apparent targeting of Latinos. "To this day, I have yet to receive a reply," she said Monday. "No one's talking to us, or to our community."

Asked about the letter, O'Doherty said the mayor's office had been in "direct contact" with CASA to arrange the upcoming meetings.

Many low-income Latinos, Alex said, tend to work late or very early hours, often carry cash, live in crime-prone neighborhoods and try to conserve money by walking instead of taking public transportation.

Despite assurances from the Police Department that officers do not routinely ask Latinos for proof of their immigration status, the fear persists that they will, and the result is that many holdups and assaults are not reported, Alex said.

"There's no law that says the police can't ask for your status, so each officer can do what he wants," said Alex, who learned to speak Spanish during a two-year stint with the Peace Corps in Ecuador. "And people who are afraid of calling the police make very easy targets."

A statement issued by Alex's organization quoted a Department of Justice report that said hate crimes against Latinos have "suffered an enormous rise in recent years, fueled, many believe, by the tenor of the debate around immigration reform and the constant demonization of Latinos on talk radio and by some political leaders."

Waiting for a job offer Monday at the CASA office on East Fayette — where clients can also seek legal advice, education opportunities and health services — a 38-year-old man from Guerrero, Mexico, displayed a wound above his right eye that he said came from a pistol-whipping early Saturday, two hours after Reyes was killed and only a few blocks away.

The man, who would identify himself only as Juan N. because he feared deportation, said three men — two of them armed with handguns — threatened him and took his wallet, and that one hit him with a gun. Five years ago, he said, he was held up under similar circumstances, as he made a call from a pay phone.

"You never know if they're going to leave you right there, dead," he said. On neither occasion did he report the crime to police.

The man charged with killing Reyes, Jermaine R. Holley, punched and kicked him and then clubbed him repeatedly, police said. Holley's weapon was a wooden stake that he had yanked out of a sidewalk, where it had been propping up a tree. On Monday morning, traces of Reyes' blood remained spattered on the pavement and on a "No Parking" sign.

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