The website for Dr. Mario Hernandez’s clinic told patients in an immigrant-heavy part of south Charlotte that their health might depend on having a doctor who understood their culture and language.
“Patients, families, and clinical staff have interest in the impact of cultural competence interventions and the way these affect utilization of services and costs,” his website says.
Hernandez’s office, with its large red sign that reads “Dr. Hernandez,” is located near Compare Foods, a Hispanic grocery chain, and is next to a Hispanic beauty salon and a bank that advertises low rates to wire money to family in other countries. His website offers help for “limited English speaking population.”
But weeks ago, Hernandez was charged with three counts of sexual assault against members of the community he offered to help. All his accusers were Hispanic women who claim Hernandez sexually assaulted them during exams.
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Amid an ongoing, heated discussion about race and policing, Hernandez’s arrest underscores a point police say hasn’t been made frequently. Most of Charlotte’s crime victims are minorities.
Charlotte-Mecklenburg police Chief Kerr Putney made the point to City Council in remarks last month about rising crime in Charlotte.
African-Americans make up 35 percent of Charlotte’s population, according to the most recent census. But blacks account for 52 percent of all crime victims and 62 percent of all violent crime victims. Forty-eight percent of the department’s home burglary victims are black.
Putney said officers across the nation are frequently accused of disproportionately targeting blacks – profiling accusations the chief says the department is scrutinizing.
“What we forget in that conversation is the disproportionality of our victims,” he said. “Our officers are doing exactly what I tell them to do. … It’s statistically driven. When people are calling 911 demanding services, they are disproportionately minority victims.”
The five people killed over Labor Day weekend were all minorities, including 7-year-old Kevin Rodas, who was shot shortly after someone broke a piñata at a child’s birthday party. The killings resulted in a citywide call for less violence.
Kami Chavis Simmons, director of the Criminal Justice Program at Wake Forest University, said the fact that groups of people with the most contentious relationship with police disproportionately need the help of officers is one of the biggest challenges of 21st-century police departments.
“Often the poor, urban, minority neighborhoods are experiencing the most crime, and people in those communities deserve to be protected,” she said. “The problem is when the police who come into these neighborhoods think that everyone is a criminal.”
“It’s really not a new problem at all – how do we balance public safety while protecting civil liberties of all citizens?” she said. “The attention and the accountability that we’re seeing is what’s new. Culturally, police organizations are going to have to change.”