Ignacio “Nacho” Flores, the owner of Los Taquitos de Puebla on Ninth Street in South Philadelphia, stood before city representatives with a microphone in hand, recounting how a few weeks ago he was closing the restaurant when someone entered his establishment and threatened to you will kill him.
Flores tried to calm him down, but the aggression escalated. When Flores called 911, police didn’t have the same urgency — instead, the operator began asking her if she had COVID-19.
Police response time also lacked urgency, according to Flores.
“It took the police more than 10 minutes to arrive,” he said. “In two minutes, that man would have killed me.”
» READ MORE: Philadelphia police response times up 4 minutes, about 20% worse
The meeting at which Flores told his story was organized by the Philadelphia Mexican Business Association, with the support of City Councilman David Oh, and took place Wednesday at the Alma del Mar restaurant in South Philly. In addition to Oh, council member Mark Squilla, Sgt. Brian Mundrick and Juan Ace Delgado, a police community relations officer, addressed the concerns of the mostly Latino crowd.
Restaurants from La Taqueria Morales, Alma del Mar, Mole Poblano, Mezcal Cantina, Los Taquitos de Puebla, Los Cuatro Soles and Philly Tacos, along with representatives from other businesses including Marco’s Fish, Mercado de Latinas and Chocolate, were in attendance to discuss concerns about the escalation of violence and aggression in the area.
Philadelphia police reports show 36 violent crimes occurring this year through July in the Ninth Street blocks where most of the restaurants represented at the meeting are located.
Flores, who said it was difficult to speak in a public forum about his recent experience, said the man who entered his restaurant and threatened to kill him broke windows and other equipment, doing more than $1,500 in damages that were not covered by his insurance. .
Even the reporting of the incident was loaded.
Flores said he was grateful to Juntos, the nonprofit Latino immigrant advocacy organization whose director, Erica Guadalupe Nuñez, offered help and accompanied him the day after the incident to obtain a restraining order against the attacker.
“I went to court with Nacho because I was sure he wouldn’t have an interpreter,” Nuñez told The Inquirer when the meeting ended. “And I was right. We arrived at 8 am and waited 4 and a half hours for the interpreter to arrive. And something that Nacho did not do [mention is that] the first time he called 911, they hung up on him — because he didn’t speak the language well.”
According to Jasmine Reilly, a Police Department spokeswoman contacted after the meeting, the people who work the 911 line are public officials, not police officers.
Reilly said that “9.9 out of 10 times when someone calls 911, they will [talk to] a civilian dispatcher. Sometimes people who are deaf or hard of hearing, or who speak different languages call, so we call a language line to help them communicate with us.
She acknowledged that the experience Flores had with 911 was “100% inappropriate” and apologized on behalf of the police.
But it was clear that many at the meeting were just as unhappy with the police in the area as Flores is.
“We want to know what to expect from the police,” said Felipa Ventura, of La Taquería Morales. She offered the example of Camden as a model for the type of policing she believes would be beneficial in the area.
“I have relatives there and they tell me that the Camden police walk the streets all the time and they’ve built a relationship of trust and dialogue with the residents,” Ventura said. “This is a preventative strategy.”
» READ MORE: Camden didn’t devalue the police. It started all over again.
One bystander caused an uproar when he revealed that a group of residents on Snyder Avenue, between Sixth and Seventh Streets, had recently taken justice into their own hands and beaten a man they believed had smashed the windows of several cars in the area. .
Delgado, the community relations officer, seemed surprised — and visibly uncomfortable — when he learned from the speaker that the incident had been caught on video and demanded that it be turned over to police for examination.
“We know that immigrants are disproportionately affected by violence because there are acts of hate, but the police are not working,” Nuñez said after the meeting.
She added that most of the cases Juntos sees are people who have been beaten or robbed and turn to the advocacy organization for help because “they know the police won’t help them; there is no translator, and the operator of the telephone line [has] hung up on them.”
“Communication with the police is very difficult. We have experienced this,” she added.
For Nuñez, the growing violence in the community is one of the many symptoms of poverty, as well as a devastating effect of the pandemic. “One solution, perhaps, is to redirect some of them [police] funds for prevention programs,” she said. She further asked why, despite the increase in the budget, “there is not even enough for translators. … The question is what [police] will you do to make me feel safe?”
» READ MORE: How Philly will spend nearly a billion dollars on policing and violence prevention
As the meeting drew to a close, public officials offered few solutions, but some promises:
Squilla, whose district includes South Philadelphia’s Mexican business corridor, said he planned to ask police to include him in their weekly patrol rotation.
Oh offered to find out if there is a way for insurance companies to do a better job of covering losses from incidents such as Flores.
He also suggested that increased lighting in the area could play an important role in increasing safety – and the perception of safety – in the community.
The latter resonated with Flores.
“The least we want is for our customers to stop coming,” he said. “We want our customers to visit restaurants in the area to support the community and respond in solidarity in the face of crime.”