D.C. police officers met with repesentatives of Hispanic youths last week in an effort to improve relations between the police and the youths.
But in this meeting of the Establishment and those who consider themselves on the fringe of it, there appeared to be little common ground.
At the meeting, held in the Police Community Center on 18th Street NW near Columbia Road, police asked the youth representatives to "get the word out" that the youths must stop smoking marijuana and drinking beer in public along Columbia Road or else face arrest.
But the spokesmen for the youths were more interested in talking about how to get a recreation center in the Adams-Morgan area and more jobs for Hispanic youths who are in their late teens or early twenties and out of school.
"If you have these guys drinking in public and breaking the law, you're creating an anti-Establishment group," Officer Wilson Barreto, one of two officers assigned to the police community center, told the youth representatives.
To that, Jose (Jumbo) Sevilla, a community activist and spokesman for the youths, replied, "The only time I'm going to be happy is when we have a little community center out here -- not just a center for us, but for all Spanish-speaking people -- senior citizens everybody."
The meeting, initiated by the police ended with both sides agreeing to meet again this week -- this time with employment representatives from the city's Department of Employment Services and Metro to discuss what jobs or training programs the Hispanic youths can apply for.
Advocates for the youths maintain these young Hispanic men hang out along Columbia Road, drinking and smoking marijuana, because they cannot find jobs. Jobs open to the youths -- dishwasher, busboy, truck driver, waiter -- are unispiring, they argue.
The source of the problem lies in particular corner of Adams Morgan -- at Euclid Street and Columbia Road NW, the site of the First Church of Christ Scientist. There, in front of the church and in a small park called" el triangelo," the youths gather to play bongos ans conga drums, trumpets, guitars and cowbells and sing the songs of their native Latin American countries, often until late into the night.
More and more, police say, they have been receiving complaints about the youths' activities from people in the neighborhood.
Part of the problem seems to be the changing character of the Columbia Road neighborhood, said Barreto. Once, the majority of apartments there were rented by Hispanos. Now many of those apartments have been converted to condominiums, the Hispanics Orced out by higher rents and replaced by the white middle class.
On the other side are the Hispanic youths who grew up in this neighborhood, who feel they have a certain claim to it chase them from their corner hangout.
"What do we do on that corner? Do we snatch pocketbooks? No," said Sevilla. "We might bull --, drink a little. It's a relaxational thing. You ever see the faces of these guys after they come back from downtown, from looking for a job? Every time, they hear the same thing from employers: 'Come back tomorrow and maybe I'll have something for you.'"
Officer Ralph E. Harmon, one of the Hispanic officers who attended last week's meeting, said police have no serious crime problems with the youths outside of the drinking and the drug use. But Barreto said the youths often invite arrest by flaunting their drinking in front of the police.
"You look at 14th and T (streets Nw) and you see all those guys out there drinking. But when they see the police coming, they take the beer can and hide it. They use discretion. But you guys will say, 'Hey, Barreto, hey man,' and hold the can up in front of me. That's kind of disrespecting to an officer."
"If we get a complaint, when we get up there, we have to do something," said Officer Rufino Fisher, Hispanic officer assigned to the police community center. "If we don't, we're going to be challenged" in the community, he added.
Deputy Chief Rodwell Catoe of the Third District, which includes the Adams-Morgan area, said police are concerned about improving relations with the Latino youths. To that end, he said he plans to place one and perhaps two more community-relations officers in that area, and perhaps more Spanish-speaking officers.
He also said he is seeking a new, larger location for the police community center on 18th Street NW. The center, staffed by two Spanish-speaking officers, serves not just as a place where Latinos can talk to the police about crime, but where they come for help with domestic, employment and housing problems as well, Fisher said.
Prospect for the recreation center, which Sevilla and the youths say they seek, seem rather bleak. Garry Garber, the recreation department coordinator in the Adams-Morgan area, noted that there have been constant cutbacks in recreational facilities recently because of the city's financial crisis. He also noted that the city recently laid off its only Hispanic recreation worker for Adams-Morgan.