- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 21, 2006

A Hispanic man fatally shot Sunday in the District’s Petworth neighborhood was both a sign and symptom of a diverse community that has changed its racial identity in recent years, according to D.C. police and area residents.

“It’s getting to be like Spanish Harlem,” said Shervon Walker, 60, who has lived in the Petworth area since she was 11. “It used to be Chocolate City up in here.”

Domingo Reyes, 42, was shot in the head by a black mugger after chasing the holdup man into an alley near 13th and Randolph streets in Northwest. The gunman is still at large.

Police said robbers in the area have been targeting Hispanic men, who often carry large amounts of cash and are afraid to approach police with their problems.

“We’re being targeted everywhere,” said Luis, a 22-year-old Petworth resident who did not want to give his last name. “They know we’re not gonna go to the police and make a report, [and] a lot of Hispanics don’t speak English. That’s a big factor.”

In 2004, Hispanics 12 or older made up 13 percent of the U.S. population and experienced 11 percent of all violent crime, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.

Although the District has not seen a Hispanic immigrant influx on par with some Maryland and Virginia counties, census estimates show that the ethnic group makes up 8.9 percent of the city’s population.

Gabriel Escobar, associate director of the District-based Pew Hispanic Center, said most Hispanics have migrated within the District from Mount Pleasant and Adams Morgan to the 14th Street and Georgia Avenue corridors.

Both are traditionally black areas, where some say racial tensions and cultural barriers make the newcomers easy prey for criminals.

“It’s not new,” Mr. Escobar said. “It happens in all communities where there are significant concentrations of Latino immigrants. In Washington, you can go back to the late ‘80s and early ‘90s and see this was happening.”

Charles Esu, who owns laundromats on 14th Street Northwest and at 11th Street and Rhode Island Avenue Northwest, said that in the past nine years, he has seen a trend of criminals preying on Hispanics new to the area.

“They prey on these people so bad,” Mr. Esu said. “A lot of times [Hispanics] don’t have a bank account, so they put the money in their pockets. Some of them are not legal, so they don’t want to call police [if they’re robbed].”

Often language barriers create miscommunication and mistrust between the races, said Miss Walker, who is black. Other times, resentment builds as the groups compete for jobs, loans and other services.

“For whatever reason, [blacks] are not getting the contracts to do small business, and when we see [Hispanics get them], we get real resentful of it,” she said. “We’ve got to get to where we can communicate better [and] start speaking the same language.”

Racial tension is simmering, said Mae, a black 62-year-old resident who asked that her last name not be used.

“When summer comes, it’s going to be a mess,” she said. “Somebody’s going to get killed [or] hurt.”


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