Philly Mexican small business owners raise public safety concerns at meeting

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

Flores tried to calm him down, but the aggression escalated. When Flores called 911, the police didn’t have the same urgency — instead, the operator started asking him if he had COVID-19.

Police response time also lacked urgency, according to Flores.

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

READ MORE: Philadelphia Police Response Times Increased by 4 Minutes, About 20% Less

The meeting where Flores told her story was organized by the Philadelphia Mexican Business Association, with the support of City Council member David Oh, and took place Wednesday at the Alma del Mar restaurant in South Philly. In addition to Oh, Councilmember Mark Squilla, Sgt. Brian Mundrick and Juan Ace Delgado, a police community relations officer, addressed the concerns of the largely Latino gathering.

Restaurant owners from La Taqueria Morales, Alma del Mar, Mole Poblano, Mezcal Cantina, Los Taquitos de Puebla, Los Cuatro Soles and Philly Tacos, as well as representatives from other businesses such as Marco’s Fish, Mercado de Latinas and Chocolate, were present to discuss concerns about the escalation of violence and aggression in the region.

Philadelphia police reports show 36 violent crimes have taken place this year through July in the Ninth Street blocks where most of the restaurants represented at the meeting are located.

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

Even reporting the incident was cumbersome.

Flores said he was grateful to Juntos, the nonprofit advocacy organization for Latino immigrants in South Philly, whose director, Erica Guadalupe Nuñez, offered help and accompanied him the day after the incident to obtain a restraining order against the abuser.

“I went to court with Nacho because I was sure he wouldn’t have an interpreter,” Nuñez told The Inquirer at the end of the meeting. “And I was right. We arrived at 8:00 a.m. and waited 4:30 a.m. for the interpreter to arrive. And something 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 handling the 911 line are government officials, not police officers.

Reilly said that “9.9 times out of 10, when someone calls 911, they will [talk to] a civilian dispatcher. Sometimes people who are deaf or hard of hearing or who speak different languages ​​call, so we call a hotline to help them communicate with us.

She admitted that Flores’ experience with 911 was “100% inappropriate” and apologized on behalf of the police.

But it was clear that many of those present at the meeting were just as dissatisfied with policing in the area as Flores.

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

“I have relatives there and they tell me the Camden Police are constantly marching through the streets, and they’ve generated a relationship of trust and dialogue with the locals,” Ventura said. “It’s a preventative strategy.”

READ MORE: Camden didn’t fund the police. It started again.

One of the participants caused a stir when she recounted that a group of residents of Snyder Avenue, between Sixth and Seventh Streets, had recently taken the law into their own hands and beaten up someone they believed had smashed the windows of several cars in the area.

Delgado, the community relations officer, seemed surprised – and visibly uncomfortable – to learn from the speaker that the incident had been videotaped and asked that it be turned over to the police for review. .

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

She added that most of the cases Juntos sees are people who have been beaten or robbed and who turn to the advocacy organization for help because they “know the police aren’t going to help them.” ; there are no interpreters and the hotline operator [has] hung up on the nose.

“Communication with the police is very difficult. We have been through that,” she added.

For Nuñez, rising violence in the community is one of many symptoms of poverty, as well as a devastating effect of the pandemic. “One solution, perhaps, is to redirect some of [police] funds for prevention programs,” she said. She then wondered why, despite budget increases, there was “not even enough for interpreters. … The question is what [police] are you going to do to make me feel safe? »

READ MORE: How Philly will spend nearly $1 billion on policing and violence prevention

At the end of the meeting, public officials offered few solutions, but some promises:

Squilla, whose district includes the Mexican Trade Corridor in South Philadelphia, said he plans to ask police to include him in their weekly watch rotation.

Oh offered to know if there is a way for insurance companies to better cover losses resulting from incidents like the one Flores experienced.

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

The latter resonated with Flores.

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

Acknowledgement

Work produced by The Inquirer’s Communities and Engagement office is supported by the Lenfest Institute for Journalism. Editorial content is created independently of project donors.