Latino News and Opinion

Philadelphia’s District attorney promises more diversity
16:40 | 06/02/11

1. Latinos represent 13 percent of the city population. However, the percentage of Hispanics working in your office is of only 2.6. Considering this significant difference, when do you think the percentage of Latinos working at the DA’s office will match the percent of Hispanics living in the city?

I am trying to do all that I can to reach out to all the different communities so that the DA’s office will reflect more accurately the city that we serve. I worked to recruit and retain the best people that we can to serve crime victims, who are disproportionately African-Americans and Hispanics, and this is why I am looking to find more DA assistant attorneys from these minorities. In my first year, 2010, we hired 12 DA assistant attorneys including one Latina, Jennifer Santiago. Now I am trying to create a program where we will be offering Spanish classes for our employees, so that our personnel will be able to pronounce correctly the name of the victims and to speak to them properly.

Versión en español
El fiscal general, Seth Williams, sostuvo una Mesa Redonda con la Sala de Redacción de AL DÍA. Las siguientes son sus respuestas a algunas de las interrogantes formuladas por los periodistas y por la organización JUNTOS.

2. You encourage victims to report crimes, however there aren’t many employees in your office who speak Spanish. What else do you plan to do to solve this?

Our victims service advocates speak about 27 languages. They help victims understand the criminal justice system. When people call, there are DA assistant attorneys that can speak Spanish and many of them can help bridge that gap. But we definitely need to do a better job. Regarding the people we’re hiring, I think it is very important for them to be from Philadelphia and to be able to understand the community.

3. Which are the specific goals of the the Hispanic Community Outreach Committee that you recently created?

I opened two Community Action Centers, one is on Ogontz Avenue, which is in the North-West of the city, and the other serves the East division. They’ve been established in order that the people who live in these communities will be able to learn how they can prevent crimes, share information with us and learn about our services. In many communities, the DA attorney is not seen as a protector, but as an oppressor. Our job is to empower the community, to help make it safer and make them able to prevent crime. In order to do that, it is necessary to break down the barriers and to make the people cooperate. I will be hiring a person that will be in charge of Hispanic community outreach. I also decided to reorganize the office based on the geographic repartition of crimes and I assigned DA assistant attorneys geographically to the specific area of the city corresponding to the six Police Divisions. Now they will get to know the names of business owners, the local newspapers, the community leaders, the clergy members and the police.

4. Which specific strategies do you have to recruit Latino Law School graduates and Hispanic personnel from paralegal schools?

I do a lot of community “outreach” myself. I’ve been in contact with the Hispanic Bar Association and also with the Strategy Manager, Richard Negrin. I do think, though, that everything really starts with our summer internship program for students, this is really the best way for us to be able to identify the real talent. I also created a good relationship with the Dean of Temple School of Law, JoAnne Epss, and the Dean of Villanova School of Law, John Gotanda, about trying to identify the best potential candidates from minorities. We’ve been conducting interviews at the Georgetown School of Law, in Washington D.C.,  because I think there are more Latino students than in any other school.

5. Hispanics that report crimes have complained that Police shows up to their house asking them to point out drug dealers, and this expose them to threats and intimidation. Which is your position regarding this fact?

We have to be smart when it comes to when and how we’re getting information from the victims in order to not perpetuate a cycle of more intimidation and revenge, to make sure that the victims declare and can be protected in a certain way. These questions occur in all the communities and in all the neighborhoods. We have to make sure that people know they have to call us and let us know what is going on. We provide anonymous calls so people can share information.

The following questions come from the Pro-Immigrant Organization JUNTOS.

6. Why are you in favor of Immigration and Customs Enforcement having access to the information of detainees through the Preliminary Arraignment Reporting System (PARS)?

It is very important for us in law enforcement organisms to share information with other law enforcement agencies in real time. If for example somebody is arrested in any other part of the U.S. under a minor charge, and that person is accused of sexual abuse in Philadelphia, we want to have the opportunity to catch him. And for this we have to exchange information with the system so other organisms looking for certain persons to be able to identify them.In the application of the law we really have to cooperate so the suspects can’t slip away. We found that in the PARS system the victims were asked about their place of origin, so we talked directly to ICE to have this information removed.

7. Don’t you think this favors racial profiling?

The police doesn’t get extra points for doing that. I don’t know, I understand that this is a very sensitive topic and I think it could lead to racial profiling if you think they pull out more Latinos because they can be undocumented. But to see the great picture, I say that I do share information with everybody because when I discover an accused that is hiding in any other part of the U.S, I need them to be honest with me.

8. What about those who are arrested and then the criminal charges they face are dropped, but they still face deportation?

If they think that’s unfair, the remedy is through the Federal Government, the Congress and the Senate, not by the District Attorney’s Office that has decided to exchange information with other agencies in order to apply the law. How could they be mad at me if you are here illegally? How can their children be mad at me if their parents have been arrested and deported? They have to be angry with their parents for being here all these years and not doing the paperwork as necessary. What I can say is that the organizations worried by this situation have to do the best they can in order to educate the people to follow the adequate procedures so they don’t get deported.

9. What is your opinion regarding the case of Mumia Abu Jamal?

It is clear that has been existed a history of racism in the judiciary criminal system  against Afro-Americans and Latinos. To think the opposite will be very naive...but Mumia Abu Jamal shoot and killed officer Daniel Faulkner in December 1981 and there is not much to comment about that.

10. Would you agree to return in six months to speak about the improvements you’ve done in order to reach the Latino Community?

Sure, I will come the next week if you invite me to lunch! It would be great, I would come back in three months if you wish.


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