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Latinos and immigrant advocates in Baltimore plan to hold a march and vigil Wednesday night to call for justice as well as peace.
Latinos, whose population in Baltimore has grown significantly in the last decade, say many in their community empathize with African-Americans protesting the death of Freddie Gray, a 25-year-old man who died of a spinal injury days after being taken into police custody.
At the same time, they say, they object to the violence, destruction of property and looting of businesses by the protesters.
“The march is to say we are with them,” said Jesus Perez, a Mexican immigrant who lives in the area where the riot took place Monday. “The African American community wants answers, they want justice, and we are in solidarity with them on that. We’ve had our own cases of people being treated unfairly, with the police stopping them arbitrarily.”
But along with the show of support, Perez said, will be a denunciation of violence as a way to fight for justice.
“Our message to our African-American brothers and sisters is that you don’t need to destroy businesses, our communities, things that families have built over many years.”
Perez, who is 23 and a research assistant at Johns Hopkins University, said he knows of people who worked in some of the businesses that were looted and destroyed. He said that the answer to problems that minorities have with police does not lie in destroying places that employ people in the community, leaving them jobless, or forcing schools to shut down, affecting the children's education.
"My little 8-year-old brother is home, because they didn't have classes, and he is asking why, what is happening," Perez said. "We try to keep the children from seeing the images of the riot and violence on TV."
The march, coordinated by the immigrant advocacy and service organization Casa de Maryland, will begin Wednesday at about 6 p.m. at the group’s Baltimore office, and go for about half a mile, ending at St. Patrick’s Church, where there will be a vigil, said Perez, who does work with the agency.
Immigrants account for about 45,000 of Baltimore’s 620,000 residents. That is more than double the number of foreign-born people who lived in the city two decades ago. Latinos make up the largest chunk – at least 40 percent. Asians, Middle Easterners and Africans make up the rest.
Hispanics have accounted for much of the city’s growth.
Hispanics, in fact, doubled their numbers, from 11,000 in 2000 to 26,000 in 2010. They helped stem the double-digit population decline the city had seen in previous decades, reducing the drop between 2000 and 2010 to about 4 percent – the smallest rate in a long time.
Latinos have had their own concerns about police in the city, community leaders say, and Baltimore’s mayor and other officials have met with them over the years to discuss and address them.
“We are very concerned,” said Maria José Sandoval, communications specialist for Casa de Maryland. “The African-American and Latino communities have had their differences, but in times of crisis we’re there to support each other.”
Many Latino immigrants were not turning to police about crimes they had witnessed, or of which they were victims – community leaders and city officials say – for fear it would land them, or someone they cared about, in deportation.
They said Baltimore police were stopping Latino motorists for such things as broken headlights and not using signals and reporting them to immigration officials.
Father Robert Wajtek, known as “Padre Roberto” in the Latino community, said people who attend his church’s English-language classes called to see if they should still go, and if the class was still going to be held.
The church’s cook also called, he said, worried about venturing outside in the city today and waiting for public transportation.
“I said ‘Stay home’ so they could avoid public transportation that goes through downtown,” Wajtek said.
Wajtek said his congregants are “disheartened, and feeling disbelief that his happening.”
“Certainly with the African-American community, and with the Hispanic community in Baltimore, it’s been a struggle to build trust with the police,” he said. “With Latino immigrants, because of the situation in their own countries, where police are the oppressors, the police look for bribes; it’s been a tough road to build trust between them and the police.”
“But with-African Americans, there is a history [of lack of trust and tension] between them and the police,” Wajtek said.