Saturday, July 22, 2000

Brawl evidence of white-Hispanic tension

Growing Hispanic community comes against walls

By Jane Prendergast
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Nobody's sure exactly what happened on a recent early morning outside a Price Hill dance hall when a fight ended with a prominent Hispanic woman in intensive care, except that it showed the tension between white and Hispanic residents of the west-side neighborhood is increasing. Officials are calling for City Hall to get involved.

        “The Hispanic community is growing in the Price Hill area,” said Cecil Thomas, acting director of the Cincinnati Human Relations Commission.

        “And as it grows, the community and the police department are really not prepared to deal with that growth.”

        Hispanics are America's fastest-growing ethnic group. Census officials predict they might make up a fourth of the United States' population by 2050, up from 12 percent today. The Tristate has seen a 39 percent increase between 1990 and 1998, with the number in the eight counties around Cincinnati estimated at almost 13,000 in 1998.

        Many of the Hispanics who come to Cincinnati for its flush economy settle in Price Hill, particularly Lower Price Hill around Eighth and State streets. All kinds of churches and social service agencies have been scrambling to help the area's new population. Many of them blister at the suggestion that the neighborhood is not welcoming enough.

        Sylvia Krull is the business owner who was hurt in the street brawl June 4 outside the Chatterbox, her pool hall and Latino-music

        club on Warsaw Avenue. She was knocked to the ground while trying to break up a fight she says started when white girls poured bleach on a Hispanic man's car. She spent a week in Good Samaritan Hospital with a gash in her head and a broken collarbone.

        She took her story about the fight to the Citizens Police Review Panel because she isn't sure investigators took the matter seriously.

        Although several witnesses pointed out the white men they say attacked Ms. Krull, other witnesses' statements differed. Police closed the investigation without filing charges.

        The police officer who wrote the report described Ms. Krull as white and wrote that the incident was not race-related.

        Mr. Thomas looked into the matter, interviewing some of the witnesses. The one thing every one he spoke with agreed upon, he said, was that racial slurs were flying from both sides. He decided Ms. Krull was right, that too little police work was done.

        Review panel members decided to make an official complaint about it to City Manager John Shirey. The allegations will be referred to one or both of the city's two official police-complaint investigating bodies, the internal investigations section and the Office of Municipal Investigation.

        Ms. Krull doesn't entirely blame the police. Many District 3 officers have been very kind to her over the years, she said. She knows some of them volunteered to learn Spanish to try to communicate better with Hispanic people. Twenty-eight officers recently finished the division's 10-week Spanish and Hispanic culture class.

        Officials hope to get to the bottom of the incident and decipher what might have been done differently during the police investigation. But beyond that, the divi sion is faced with making its officers better equipped to work with Hispanic people.

        In addition to the 10-week voluntary classes, recruits and veterans are required to take four- and eight-hour classes on Hispanic culture and key Spanish phrases. Ted Schoch, director of the police division's training academy, is working on more.

        “It's so important right now with the increase in the Hispanic community,” he said.

        Mr. Thomas' ultimate goal: help recruit more than the two Hispanic officers now on the 1,000-member force. But that's for the future. For now, he hopes to encourage Safety Director Kent Ryan and Mr. Shirey to tackle the issue and develop plans to alleviate the tension.

        “I just hope things get better,” Ms. Krull said. “I just hope they can realize that before God, we're all the same. That would make me happy — if things can change.”


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