Thursday, September 20, 2007

Community leaders scheduled a public-safety meeting in a Northeast neighborhood after a bloody clash among a group of Hispanic men that residents said began in an area where day laborers gather looking for work.

As many as 200 mostly Hispanic day laborers congregate each day at a shopping plaza in Brentwood looking to link up with area contractors for jobs.

Residents said some of the workers loiter, drink alcohol and urinate in public — and that a proposal by D.C. Council member Harry Thomas Jr. to build a day-laborer center at the plaza to curb such problems is not the right solution.

“If we have them hanging out now, bringing a criminal element to our community, what are we going to do — allow them to have a meeting place?” said Raymond Chandler, an advisory neighborhood commissioner in the area. “We need to first enforce laws in place.”

The incident occurred at about 7:30 p.m. last Thursday, when police found a Hispanic man lying on a sidewalk and bleeding from his head near 10th Street and Rhode Island Avenue in Northeast — only a few hundred feet away from the shopping plaza.

Police said the victim — who was identified only as “John Doe” in police reports — also had a stab wound in the center of his back.

Mr. Chandler said his constituents who live in the area told him the man was assaulted during a fight involving a large group of men that began behind the Bank of America at 915 Rhode Island Ave.

The clash then spilled over from a hill behind the bank onto 10th Street, where Mr. Chandler said men were “rolling over people’s cars” during the fight.

“It was nobody who lived in the neighborhood involved in the incident,” Mr. Chandler said. “A couple of my neighbors said it had to be about 20 of them.”

Sgt. Juan Aguilar, commander of the Metropolitan Police Department’s gang unit, said he had not heard of the incident.

“We’ve had no reports of any type of gang activity in that area or with fights that are known to happen with day laborers,” he said.

Still, police records show that responding officers were told by a witness that two men stomped and kicked the victim, and another witness said one of the men hit the victim in the back of the head with a wood 2-by-4.

The victim was taken to Washington Hospital Center and reportedly survived, Mr. Chandler said. Officers arrested two Hispanic men after the incident, who are identified in records only by their last names: Bayer and Salazar-Valadez. The report also says both men are suspected of using alcohol.

Metropolitan Police do not inquire about the immigration status of persons they arrest.

Mr. Thomas, who secured $500,000 in funding to build the day-laborer center, could not be reached for comment yesterday.

He has said his proposed center would include restrooms and offer classes ranging from language immersion to financial literacy, and asserted it would be a solution to the nuisance problems perpetrated by a minority of the day laborers.

But Mr. Chandler and other residents adamantly oppose constructing the center, saying employment services already exist in the area and that city money should not be used to fund a center for day laborers, many of whom are illegal aliens.

The incident caused Mr. Chandler to organize a public-safety meeting for community residents and businesses to voice their concerns to police.

The meeting is scheduled for 7 p.m. on Oct. 9 at Isle of Patmos Baptist Church in Northeast.

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