Philly’s Mexican small business owners highlight public safety issues at meeting

Ignacio “Nacho” Flores, owner of Los Taquitos de Puebla on Ninth Street in South Philadelphia, stood before city officials with a microphone in hand as he recounted how he was closing the restaurant a few weeks ago when someone entered his establishment and threatened to kill him.

Flores tried to calm him down, but the aggression grew. When Flores called 911, police weren’t as urgent — instead, the operator began asking him if he had COVID-19.

According to Flores, the police also lacked urgency.

“It took the police more than 10 minutes to arrive,” he said. “In two minutes this man would have killed me.”

» READ MORE: Philadelphia police response times 4 minutes longer, about 20% worse

The meeting at which Flores told his story was organized by the Philadelphia Mexican Business Association, with the support of City Councilman David Oh, and was held Wednesday at the Alma del Mar restaurant in South Philly. In addition to Oh, Councilman Mark Squilla, Sgt. Brian Mundrick and Juan Ace Delgado, a police community relations officer, addressed the concerns of the mostly Hispanic crowd.

Restaurateurs from La Taqueria Morales, Alma del Mar, Mole Poblano, Mezcal Cantina, Los Taquitos de Puebla, Los Cuatro Soles and Philly Tacos were present for the discussion, as well as representatives from other companies including Marco’s Fish, Mercado de Latinas and Chocolate. concern over the escalation of violence and aggression in the region.

Philadelphia police reports show 36 violent crimes this year through July on Ninth Street, where most of the restaurants represented at the meeting are located.

Flores, who said he finds it difficult to speak in a public forum about his recent experience, said a man who entered his restaurant and threatened to kill him broke windows and other equipment, causing more than $1,500 in damage that was not covered by his insurance. .

Even reporting the incident was difficult.

Flores said he was grateful to Juntos, a Latino immigrant rights nonprofit in South Philly, whose director Erica Guadalupe Nunez offered to help and accompanied him the day after the incident to get a restraining order against the attacker.

“I went to court with Nacho because I was sure he wouldn’t have an interpreter,” Nunes told The Inquirer after the meeting ended. “And I was right. We arrived at 8 am and waited 4 and a half hours for the interpreter to arrive. And what Nacho didn’t do [mention is that] the first time he called 911, they hung up on him — because he didn’t speak the language well.”

According to Jasmine Reilly, a spokeswoman for the police department contacted after the meeting, the people who work the 911 line are public servants, not police officers.

Reilly said that “9.9 times out of 10, when someone calls 911, they’re going to [talk to] civil dispatcher. Sometimes people call who are deaf or hard of hearing, or people who speak different languages, so we call the language line to help them understand us.”

She acknowledged that Flores’ 911 experience was “100 percent inappropriate” and apologized on behalf of police.

But it was clear that many of those at the meeting were just as unhappy with police work in the area as Flores was.

“We want to know what to expect from the police,” said Felipa Ventura of La Taquería Morales. She offered the example of Camden as an example of the type of policing she believes would be beneficial in the region.

“I have relatives there, and they tell me that the Camden police walk the streets all the time, and they’ve built a relationship of trust and dialogue with the residents,” Ventura said. “It’s a preemptive strategy.”

» READ MORE: Camden didn’t pay police back. It started all over again.

One bystander caused a commotion when she said that a group of residents on Snyder Avenue, between Sixth and Seventh Streets, had recently taken justice into their own hands and beaten a man who they believed had broken the windows of several local cars.

Delgado, the public affairs officer, seemed surprised — and visibly uncomfortable — to learn from the speaker that the incident had been caught on video and asked that it be turned over to police for review.

“We know that immigrants are disproportionately affected by violence because there are acts of hate, but the police are not working,” Nunez said after the meeting.

She added that most of the cases Juntos sees are people who have been beaten or robbed and come to the human rights organization for help because “they know the police won’t help them; there are no translators and a hotline operator [has] hung up on them.”

“Communication with the police is very difficult. We survived it,” she added.

For Núñez, the rise in community violence is one of many symptoms of poverty, as well as the devastating impact of the pandemic. “The solution may be to redirect the part [police] funds for preventive programs,” she said. She also asked why, despite the increase in the budget, “there are not even enough translators. … The question is what [police] what should I do to feel safe?”

» READ MORE: How Philly will spend nearly a billion dollars on policing and violence prevention

As the meeting drew to a close, state officials offered few solutions, but few promises:

Squilla, whose district includes South Philadelphia’s Mexican business corridor, said he plans to ask police to include him in their weekly surveillance rotation.

Oh suggested looking into whether there is a way for insurance companies to better cover losses from incidents like Flores.

He also suggested that increased lighting in the area could play an important role in improving safety — and the perception of safety — in the community.

The latter found a response from Flores.

“The least we want is for our customers to stop coming,” he said. “We want our customers to visit restaurants in the area to support the community and show solidarity in the face of crime.”

Gratitude

The work, produced by The Inquirer’s Communities & Engagement department, is supported by the Lenfest Journalism Institute. Editorial content is created independently of project donors.

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