Robberies and assaults have been plaguing the Mexican community of South Philadelphia, but many of the crimes are not reported to the Philadelphia Police Department.
“I want to say five years, probably a little bit longer than that, that this has been going on,” Detective said Jose Valdes, a member of the Victim Services Unit of the Philadelphia Police Department. He said he believes it is a lack of trust in law enforcement that is keeping victims from getting justice.
Mexican immigrants are being targeted as the victims in this series of attacks that happen late at night normally on their way home from restaurant work.
“Like the majority of us immigrants who don’t have a bank account, they keep their money in their bags. After work, they collect their cash, they go at all hours of the night and the dishwashers are the ones most prone to being assaulted,” Carlos Rojas said. Rojas is a pastry chef at Tashan on 777 S. Broad St. and has been speaking out for the victims in the Mexican community. He has heard numerous stories from victims within his community on how the attacks happen.
“You have to walk looking to all sides because you don’t know at what moment they are going to jump on you and they are quick. Because you’ll see them together and then you have to realize that when they separate, they are going to beat you, they are going to assault you and they are going to take your money. When you are going home, you have to be aware of who is behind you. It’s very sad to live like this,” Rojas said.
Valdes said he believes the routine could be the problem for these particular victims because they leave work at the same time, get paid on the same day and take the same route home every night. However, he said he can’t be sure if the crimes are planned or they occur sporadically when the opportunity presents itself. From what he has been told by the few victims who are willing to speak to the authorities, some of the attacks are done by 15-, 16- and 17-year-olds.
“The adults do it to rob them and the group of young ones who are assaulting, they are doing it no more to rob them than for the thrill of the beating,” Rojas said.
Rojas said he believes South Philadelphia is becoming even more violent. He has recently reached out to law enforcement as a beginning step in solving the problem of the unreported crimes.
“As far as the robberies and numbers, per se, we don’t have that, you know, statistics,” Valdes said. The victims are not reporting the crimes they are suffering to the police and the attacks are going unreported and undocumented. Valdes said he believes the lack of confidence in law enforcement is prevalent throughout the United States because of their history with corrupt Mexican law enforcement.
The detective said he agrees that a problem exists. “I really can’t blame them. They see that badge and only one thing goes through the mind, you know, ‘they’re taking me away’,” Valdes said.
Immigrants immediately think that the smallest involvement with the police means they will be deported. There are organizations that provide immigrants with medical help, job searching and even victim services if they choose not to go to the police. One such organization is called New Sanctuary which deals with many different types of immigrants.
“Places like these make people that go through problems and have distress with law enforcement, it makes a place for them a little bit secure in the environment because there’s no questions of your immigration status. Their concern is to help them at that particular time with their problem,” Valdes said. However, crimes, in these cases, could still go unreported to police.
Valdes said he realizes that the Mexican community doesn’t trust law enforcement to help them without using their status against them. He said he tried to mend trust issues with the Latino community in North Philadelphia when he worked toward resolving problems with law enforcement. The Latino community wanted Spanish-speaking officers whom they could call for help and the Philadelphia Police Department delivered.
“That’s the same thing that I’m looking forward to in South Philadelphia and the Mexican population, but we have to be together in that,” Valdes said.
Valdes said he has opened the doors for, what he considers, the closed Mexican community of South Philadelphia.
“This is the message that I tell in meetings, that I tell people from the Mexican community. We’re not Homeland Security. We’re not out there in the streets looking to deport people. That is not our policy,” Valdes said. “If you are a victim of a crime, come right in. That’s our business. Solving crimes, you know, helping people that are in need. That message, I believe, is being diluted.”
Valdes said he believes that the Mexican population in South Philadelphia not only doesn’t trust the police to ignore their immigration status, but also has fear within their community.
“I have people that were so scared to talk they didn’t even look at me in the eye,” Valdes said. He tried to conduct interviews with some people from the community and handed out cards. Valdes said he wonders if the neighborhood may be a victim in itself. Certain people within the community can avoid the police by threatening others into not reporting anything to the police.
“So the problem is real. The threat is real. But the fear is also real,” Valdes said.