Death Spurs 911 Drive To Assure Immigrants

The homeless man, whose beating was caught on store surveillance tape has died from his injuries. The two suspects in the case now face manslaughter charges. Video by AP
By David Betancourt
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, February 7, 2009

D.C. officials yesterday launched a "Call 911" campaign and scheduled a series of meetings in Columbia Heights to ease Hispanic immigrants' fear of police.

The effort was announced at a midday vigil for Jose Sanchez, a 31-year-old man who lay fatally injured for almost 20 minutes on a sidewalk last month as more than 150 people walked by. No one called 911 for Sanchez, who had hit his head on the sidewalk after being pushed during an argument. Bystanders and community leaders said many were afraid to call authorities for fear of being asked about their immigration status. Eventually a worker from a nearby market called for an ambulance. Two men have been charged in Sanchez's death.

Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D) attended the vigil, as did about 60 others, many wearing white shirts to symbolize a call for peace. The Call 911 campaign will include leaflets and a series of meetings in which police and city officials will stress that emergency workers do not ask about immigration status and that safety is their only concern.

"A loss that could have been prevented is a greater tragedy," Fenty said. "Let's try to learn from what happened. We care about our neighbors, and it's up to us to look out for our neighbors."

Adrian Althoff, the community outreach coordinator for the Central American Resource Center in Columbia Heights, known as CARECEN, said the Call 911 campaign is a good start in reestablishing a relationship between police and immigrants.

"Many members of the Latino community feel isolated and feel like they're not being taken into account," Althoff said. "We want to strengthen the ongoing efforts. The 911 campaign sounds like something that is going in the right direction. A lot of times, a lack of English or immigration status can cause anxiety. Hopefully these campaigns can increase the use of 911 in the community."

Yesterday's vigil took place at 14th and Parkwood streets NW in Columbia Heights, on the corner where Sanchez lay injured Jan. 27. He died three days later. After the brief ceremony, carnations were placed at the spot where Sanchez collapsed.

Rodrigo Leiva, executive director of the Latino Federation of Greater Washington, said calling authorities in emergencies is one of many issues facing the Hispanic community.

"To leave someone to die instead of helping them is wrong," Leiva said. "The bigger issue here is how this reflects on how people treat immigrants. That insensitivity is the issue. We need to recognize that we need to support our immigrant community and be sensitive to their needs."

The first community meeting is scheduled for Feb. 18 at La Cabana Restaurante on 14th Street.

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