Several Hispanic-owned businesses in East Baltimore are feeling singled out. They said they’ve been the subject of excessive police enforcement and are calling for an end to “discriminatory” inspections.
Gilberto de Jesus is an attorney lending his services to the Hispanic Business Association. He said more than seven Hispanic businesses claim to have been unfairly targeted by police, the Fire Marshal’s office and health officials.
Nicolas Ramos, the owner of La Rumba, said police stormed his established three times in one month for minor business code violations.
According to his lawyer, Miguel Palmeiro, 12 armed officers shut down the restaurant on Feb. 3 because the owner failed to a make a payment of a minor fine. He said “approximately 20 officers” shut down the business again on Feb. 5 for a broken hot water heater, and again on Feb.12 “15 officers ordered all patrons to leave, because they cited the ladies room lacked toilet paper in the bathroom."
A statement from the Baltimore City Health Department denied singling out any business and in a statement said, in part:
“The business in question, La Rumba, was among a number of businesses assigned to Baltimore City’s Social Club Task Force (SCTF) to investigate based upon complaints from the community. It is deployed in cases where numerous and varying complaints from different community members are received or when the facility fails to respond to BCHD notices to schedule an inspection, and where the pooling of resources has been shown to be effective in resolving issues affecting the community at large.
The inspection of La Rumba revealed rodent and roach infestations, operation without a permit (expired), no hot water in the restroom and general unsanitary conditions. Since the issues could not be immediately corrected, closure was ordered. … The violations observed during the operation of the facility would close any food service facility."
In addition, they said the business was operating after a closure notice was posted. They also said Ramos was issued citations for violations of the Health Code as well as a citation for operating without a license.
Ramos admitted there have been a couple issues in the past but nothing that would’ve warranted the police response he witnessed on several occasions.
“They’re having small issues that come up, a $300 fine is not a reason to shut down an establishment. If there's an issue with the water heater you don't address it at 12:15 in the middle of the night in a busy bar with customers. They're raiding Hispanic businesses at their busiest times to scare the clientele,” Palmeiro said.
De Jesus added that’s it part or a larger pattern of Hispanic-owned businesses being unfairly targeted.
“We know other establishments are shut down as well. The difference is you don't get the kind of police response that we're receiving in Hispanic institutions, Hispanic businesses and restaurants,” he said.
Baltimore Police spokesman T.J. Smith denied any targeting and said inspections have been ongoing for a number of businesses outside of that area.
“There have been a number of enforcement initiative and compliance initiatives well beyond this particular community so that's absolutely not true,” he said.
He added that sometimes health inspectors request police assistance, and more officers were requested to act as translators.
The Hispanic Business Association of Broadway wants to resolve the situation amicably and is proposing a six-point plan. Among their proposed solutions, they would like to see an early detection review process implemented that gives businesses more time to fix violations, and they'd also like to see a Spanish-speaking ombudsman that works directly with inspectors and can provide Hispanic merchants with advice and education.
They’re seeking to meet with the mayor and police commissioner to discuss their concerns.