Views from the Barrio

J.Smith/El Hispano

Philadelphia – From the Beauty Salons and street corners to the Bodegas, Bars and Barber Shops, in the Barrio there were no shortage of opinions on the controversial grand jury decisions in either the Ferguson shooting case or the New York city choking death of Eric Garner. The events that continued to ignite protests and die-ins across the nation, readily sparked discussion and debate.

Standing on the corner of Somerset near Fourth Street with his friend ‘Paycheck,’ the Grand Jury decisions in both cases left Erwin Diaz skeptical of the judicial process:  “Something ain’t right with those grand juries.”

Of the possibility of improving relations between the police and minority community with training, cameras and more beat cops, Mr. Diaz was equally dubious, saying, “That ain’t happening, and it won’t change things. The cops are always looking at us as a threat.”

Bodega owner Wendy Collazo initially attributed all the problems with police to, “the white officers. They’re the racial ones.”

After pausing she added, ‘“It’s not a thing about race; it’s the way they grow up. You don’t see kids do things like that.”

“If you see a black and a white kid together, they don’t care about race.  It’s the parents that say, “you can’t play with him.”

On whether police training could prevent such incidents, Ms. Collazo said, ‘they should be trained to use (non-lethal) force, and when they have to shoot someone, not to shoot to kill.”

Discussing the arrest of Eric Garner, where the officer used an aggressive restraining maneuver that precipitated his death, Lou Cruz said, “I’ve never seen anything like that around here.”

“But I know that cops will jump out at you, sometimes, for no reason,” added Lou. “But that’s old news.”

A barber in the predominantly Fairhill neighborhood for nearly a decade, Jose Rivera noted that he has cut the hair of many cops, and “they’re all nice guys.”

“But what they are in here and what they are when they are out with their partners, that’s two different things.”

Rivera recalled a time that a customer, “an ex-con” came into his shop and sat down while he was cutting the hair of an officer: “When the (con) got up and went outside to smoke the cop followed him and questioned him in front” of the shop. “He didn’t come back.”

“They sometimes do stuff that’s not fair,” suggested Rivera. “In the streets they have to do their job, but to do it  fairly. They want respect, but they don’t always respect us.”

“If you give respect, you get respect back, that’s what I always tell my kids,” said Carlos Lugardo, standing with several friends in an Orkney street bar.

“ And I also tell my kids: ‘If you ever need help, go to an officer, but do it in a respectful way. They are here to protect and serve.”

“Now I know that there are bad police officers and those who don’t care about civil rights,” continued Mr. Lugardo. “But there are more good cops, we just have to sort out the bad ones from the good.”

“Without the justice system, without the police, it’s a no man’s land out here, and it’s every man for himself,” added Mr. Lugardo.

A Puerto Rican working in the hotel business, Mr. Lugardo noted that his Fairhill neighborhood is very diverse, “and police need to realize that you can’t tell a book by its cover.”

“I have friends who have dark skin and they are good people. And because I come in here and dress  ghetto (style), it doesn’t mean I’m not working. I just like to hang out with my friends. We’re all humans.”

According to the Dept. of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Statistics, between  2003 and 2009, there were 4,813 arrest-related deaths in the United States.  Of these, 2,931 or 61% were classified as homicides by law enforcement personnel;  541 (11%) were suicides; 525 (10%) were due to intoxication; 272 (6%) were accidental, and 244 (5%) were attributed to natural causes.

   And of the arrest-related fatalities, 42% were white, 32% were black and 20% were Hispanic.