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A fatal stabbing and a deadly carjacking within a week has Baltimore’s Latino residents on edge

Marcus Wilson and his 5-year-old daughter were skateboarding when he was fatally stabbed in Highlandtown last week.

A neighbor found the child next to her father in the street on March 29, and quickly took the little girl to Wilson’s mother, Michelle Torres, who lives nearby. Torres said she ran with her granddaughter back to her son in the 200 block of S. Conkling St. She got there to see him being loaded into an ambulance.

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“I don’t know if he was aware that I was there. I’m pretty sure he heard my voice,” she said.

On Monday, Torres prepared funeral service arrangements and planned to attend a 7:30 p.m. community vigil for her 30-year-old son, who was Black and Latino. The vigil also remembered Fabian Mendez, 41, a Latino man who died Friday after three suspects attempted to carjack him as he drove to work in the morning.

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Police said Mendez was struck and dragged with his own vehicle in the 100 block of N. Conkling St. in the Baltimore Highlands neighborhood. The 16-year-old driver was arrested at the scene and has been charged with murder. Two other suspects remain at large.

Advocates for the Latino community said the recent high-profile attacks are just the latest violence against Latino residents.

“It’s normal now to hear from people in the community [that] they’ve been robbed, businesses have been robbed, people being beaten up, [and] killings going on in the area,” said Angelo Solera, founder and executive director of Nuestras Raíces Inc., one of the organizers of Monday’s vigil.

At the vigil, Mayor Brandon Scott offered his condolences to the families and encouraged the Latino community to speak up at an April 20 forum to talk about what the city can incorporate into its violence prevention plan to help make people feel safe.

“I want to emphasize my support for the Latino community,” Scott said. “If you live in Baltimore, Baltimore is your home, regardless of where you came from and what language you speak.”

Scott encouraged the community to report crimes that might happen to them and to not be afraid to speak up.

“We want to protect you and make your neighborhood safer just like everywhere else,” he said.

Solera says businesses have been targeted because robbers know “these Latinos have money, do not speak English, are afraid and sometimes defenseless.”

Solera says more needs to be done to address the violence. “We as a community are just tired of all of this,” Solera said.

Torres, who has lived in the Baltimore Highlands area for the past 11 years, said her son’s passing made her an advocate because violence in the neighborhood has been “one thing after another.” Torres says not just the Latino community “but every culture has been targeted.” She hopes the vigil will bring attention and action.

“My heart goes out to [Fabian Mendez] as well or to anyone that lost someone due to a violent crime,” Torres said. “It’s sad and it needs to change. I’ve lived in all areas in Baltimore, and I never had the actual experience as where I’m at now.”

Flormotenjo Mendez, Fabian’s sister, spoke briefly at the vigil, which was attended by at least 75 people, and recalled her brother as a hard worker.

”I can see that my brother has a lot friends, he was a good person and he worked very hard to take care of our families both here in the United States and back home,” she said through tears.

Baltimore Police do not have data tracking crimes against Latino residents. The department’s latest crime data does not show a large increase in overall crime in the district.

Baltimore Police Chief of Patrol Col. Richard Worley said investigators do not believe more Latino residents are being targeted because of their ethnicity, but that they may be increasingly victimized as part of a seasonal influx in robberies.

“It’s about this time every year we have a slight rise in robberies in the Southeast and Northeast” districts, Worley said.

The Southeast District has the city’s largest Hispanic community, and the district has seen an increase, but not larger compared to previous years, Worley said.

Worley said there is more distrust of police in the Hispanic community, which can make identifying and investigating crimes more difficult. But Worley said police have been working to increase and improve outreach with residents, including increasing more Spanish-speaking officers to 23 and a community liaison who does outreach with the Latino community.

Worley said the department has also adjusted deployment, sending the department’s roving mobile metro unit to provide more officers to the district in anticipation of a spike in crime there.

Worley noted that when Mendez was attacked, an officer was at the scene, and managed to chase the suspects, leading to one arrest at the scene. “That officer was right there where he was supposed to be,” Worley said.

Still, many Latino residents in the city’s Southeastern neighborhoods remain alarmed by the recent violence.

Lucía Islas, a community leader and president of Comité Latino de Baltimore, a nonprofit that provides resources within the Hispanic community, said many of the city’s Latino residents are becoming frustrated because they are disproportionately victims of robberies, home invasions and carjackings.

She said she believes Latino residents are targeted for those crimes because they are often known to carry more cash, and become known as an “ATM machine.”

“They don’t trust that much in banks. Most of them keep money in their pockets, in their purse or in the house. This is causing us a huge problem,” she said.

Islas said there were four recent home invasions in the Southeastern District, including one family whose sons are friends with her daughter.

“They work very hard, and someone is trying to take everything away from them,” she said of the family. “Everything they have worked for they just took it away.”

Councilman Zeke Cohen, who represents the Highland neighborhood called on people to embrace different cultures and languages and said the city can’t afford to be divided but instead must be united “like never before.”

“As a community we failed to know these men’s stories until it was too late,” he said.

When Latino residents do become victims of a crime, it can be more challenging to report to police because there aren’t enough Spanish-speaking officers, or enough officers in general to respond to less serious calls in the city, Isla said. Some undocumented residents, she said, are afraid to call police because they fear immigration officials might become involved.

Pastor Bruce Lewandowski, of Sacred Heart of Jesus Church in Highlandtown, a largely Latino congregation, said he believes that the Latino community is less likely to report crimes committed against them. Some residents fear being detained and then deported. There is also a “cultural development here where people don’t like to be seen as victims,” he said.

But Lewandowski said he does not believe the community is being targeted because of their ethnicity.

“I think if you live in Baltimore, the chances are you, or someone you know, will be a victim of a crime,” he said.

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Islas said she hopes the city and police department can make an effort to reduce crime in the city she loves.

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“I always tell people this is my kids’ city,” she said of her children who are 22, 19, 13 and 11. She said she has lived in different U.S. cities, but “to me, Baltimore is the best.”

She said she hopes things improve for her children.

“They need to know Baltimore is beautiful,” she said.

Stephanie García is a 2020-21 corps member for Report for America, an initiative of the GroundTruth Project, a national service program that places emerging journalists in local newsrooms. She covers issues relevant to Latino communities. Follow her @HagiaStephia

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