11/20/09 The Times-Picayune – Cops falter in Hispanic outreach: Hassles reported despite Riley pledge
November 20, 2009
Cops falter in Hispanic outreach: Hassles reported despite Riley pledge
by Brendan McCarthy, The Times-Picayune
A multiethnic group of laborers, religious figures and community organizers demonstrated Thursday afternoon outside New Orleans Police Department headquarters, complaining that officers are inquiring about the immigration status of Hispanic residents despite a pledge by police brass to avoid such lines of questioning.
Two months ago, in hopes of encouraging undocumented workers to alert police when they’re victimized by criminals, NOPD Superintendent Warren Riley announced his officers would not ask crime victims or witnesses about their immigration status.
“When (Riley) gave those public assurances, we applauded him,” said Saket Soni, director of the New Orleans Workers’ Center for Racial Justice. “Unfortunately, the reality on the street has not played out that way.”
The group of about 30 protesters delivered a complaint to the receptionist at the NOPD’s headquarters on South Broad Street. The receptionist noted they should return today to make an appointment to speak to Riley.
An NOPD spokesman did not return a request for comment Thursday evening.
The group highlighted one recent incident in which it alleged that NOPD officers asked a laborer about his immigration status and later refused to take his criminal complaint. It’s one of several such recent cases, group members said. Jacinta Gonzalez, organizer for the local Congress of Day Laborers, said the incident took place Nov. 2 and involved a middle-aged man named Jose Mejia Castro.
Castro was allegedly owed $3,000 by a contractor who employed day laborers. Castro, who speaks only Spanish, went to a work site to take photos of his boss’s vehicle and document his license plate, according to Gonzalez. She said the employer confronted Castro, threatened him with a hammer and then assaulted him.
Castro called Gonzalez as well as police to report the assault, Gonzalez said.
The officers were not interested in the man’s allegations and focused instead on his documentation, she said. Ultimately, police cited him and his employer with disturbing the peace and refused to take the criminal complaint, which likely would have been considered an assault, Gonzalez said. The contractor could not be reached for comment Thursday.
The NOPD has made strides recently in reaching out to Hispanic people, some of whom moved to New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina to work in the rebuilding effort.
Day laborers, who are often paid in cash, have been targeted repeatedly by unscrupulous contractors and armed robbers. A few months ago, Riley named a bilingual officer as the liaison to the Hispanic community and sent other officers to language classes.
He also announced officers would avoid asking about immigration status.
One of Thursday’s protesters, Walter Umrani, a representative from the Muhammad’s Mosque 46, said he had recently spoken to Riley and that the chief expressed interest in meeting and discussing the matter.
“Chief Riley is a man of his word,” Umrani said. “We cannot let the actions of handful of clowns discredit the entire Police Department.”
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Brendan McCarthy can be reached at email@example.com or 504.826.3301.