- The Washington Times - Saturday, May 6, 2006

The Metropolitan Police Department yesterday used the 15th anniversary of the Mount Pleasant riots to highlight efforts to improve relations with residents of the mostly Hispanic community in Northwest.

Dozens of residents arrived at the Bell Multicultural High School for the second of four community meetings held by the police department’s Latino Advisory Council.

Officers passed out pamphlets and talked to community members, but they mostly listened to complaints and suggestions that ranged from under-patrolled areas to combating gang activity.

Jose Andraee, 19, a senior at Bell who vaguely remembers living through the riots, said neighborhood relations with the police would improve only when unfair stereotypes of youths are eliminated.

“A young black or Latino guy, people assume that he’s a gangster or a bad guy, because he’s wearing a certain outfit,” he said. “If I was a cop, and I look on TV and see all these rappers and young kids talking about killing police, I’d be scared, too… but being public servants, they have to brace themselves for it. You can’t assume that [youths] are all naturally evil or in a gang.”

Larry McCoy, commander of the 3rd District, which includes Mount Pleasant, said the department has done a much better job reaching out to the Hispanic community, citing the increased number of Hispanic police officers and weekly meetings with the Latino Advisory Council.

Officer Jose Magana said the meetings are an attempt to “gain the Latino community’s trust,” which is hampered by communication barriers and poor education.

But some residents said the strained relations with the police are partly due to the department’s ineptitude or indifference.

“Sometimes you call for the police, and they just don’t come,” said Miguel Solys, 41.

The May 5, 1991, riots followed the shooting of Daniel Gomez by then-rookie Metropolitan Police Officer Angela Jewell, who was arresting him for disorderly conduct. The officer said Mr. Gomez had lunged at her with a knife.

Police arrested more than 200 people, mostly for violating curfew. Fifty persons had been injured, mostly police.

Dozens of stores and businesses were damaged or looted during the two days of rioting. The damage was estimated to be in the hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Charges against Mr. Gomez were dropped the following year after a jury was unable to reach a verdict.

Gustavo Velasquez, the executive director of the mayor’s Office of Latino Affairs, said the riots brought relations between the police department and the community to a crossroads, and that the department has worked hard to assure such an incident never happens again.

“We want to win the confidence of the Latino community,” Mr. Velasquez said. “There’s nothing more important than that.”

The police department should be viewed as a “friend and confidante” to the community, he said.

“It is perfect that on the 15th anniversary of the disturbances at Mount Pleasant that we have come to Bell Multicultural School,” said Council member Jim Graham, Ward 3 Democrat. “This is not just a great example of what we have done [since the riots], it’s a great example of what we can [still] do for the Latino community.”

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