Latino Citizen Committee hopes to bridge a gap

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The actions of ex-Charlotte Mecklenburg Police officer Marcus Jackson, convicted of sexually assaulting several local women, have caused repercussions far beyond the termination of his career. At least two of the women violated by Jackson were Latina. These women did not feel that they had the right to report Jackson because they were afraid that their undocumented legal status did not protect them in such situations. Their fears were confirmed when one man, Abel Moreno, tried to report Jackson and was jailed for six days due to the policies implemented by 287(g), further lessening the already minimal trust Latinos place in Charlotte’s police.

The Jackson-Moreno case is rife with issues that rile people up: illegal immigration, sexual assault, the dynamics between law enforcement officials and the community they serve and protect. Who is the criminal here, Jackson for his actions toward women, or the women who are here illegally? Should Moreno be acclaimed for standing up to Jackson, or should he have been deported for not having the proper documentation?

In messy situations like this one, people are apt to want to point fingers. Instead of playing the blame game, the newly formed Latino Citizen Committee believes that the culprit in this case, as in many others, is ignorance — a lack of mutual understanding between Charlotte’s police force and its Latino population.

According to News 14 the committee is made up of 20 members of Charlotte’s Latino community, including church, business and nonprofit organizational leaders.  Yesterday was the first of 12 meetings set to take place the first Wednesday of each month for a year. The committee plans to address one of the major issues affecting Charlotte’s crime scene: the fear many Latinos have when it comes to reporting crimes, which thus allows these criminals to easily escape police persecution.

Spanish-language paper La Noticia quotes committee member Maudia Melendez, executive director of the Jesus Ministry, as saying

Muchas personas desconocen el papel de la policía y la de la Oficina del Alguacil. Los miembros de este comité se informarán de cómo funciona el gobierno, y qué tareas cumple cada dependencia para saber cuáles son sus responsabilidades con la comunidad… Esperamos construir un puente fuerte para que haya una comunicación más fluida. Así cada año, mejorará esta relación y mejorará la seguridad de los latinos.

[Translation] “Many people are unaware as to the role of the police and the Sheriff’s Office. The members of this committee will inform themselves about how the government works, and what tasks each agency performs in order to know what their responsibilities are to the community…We hope to construct a strong bridge so that there will be more fluid communication. This way, each year, this relationship will improve, and the safety of Latinos will improve.”

Melendez also stated that an informed community is a safer community, and that while some areas already have a more established relationship with the police, such as South Boulevard and Eastway, Latinos should be able to have open communication with police everywhere. (Concord already has a similar group working toward the same goals.)

There is also a lack of representation on behalf of Latinos in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department; on its website, WCNC reports that “right now, there are about 50 to 70 bilingual employees out of about 1,600.”  The article acknowledges that the CMPD is sensitive to this:

Police say they want to work with the committee to build trust in the community so they can fight crime together.

"That's what our objectives are, is making sure the community understands who we are, what we do and how we do it," said CMPD Major Diego Anselmo.

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