Sunday, February 10, 2013

'Don't Give Up On Us': Puerto Ricans Wrestle With High Crime


by DAVID GREENE
February 07, 2013
Puerto Rico's population is declining. Faced with a deteriorating economy, increased poverty and a swelling crime rate, many Puerto Ricans are fleeing the island for the U.S. mainland. In a four-part series, Morning Edition explores this phenomenon, and how Puerto Rico's troubles are affecting its people and other Americans in unexpected ways.

Daysi Pena was selling cosmetics and accessories at the Rio Piedras market in San Juan, Puerto Rico, when she spotted two men getting out of a car. They ran into the jewelry store across from her stall, ran out again and began firing guns. The incident was the last straw for Pena, who had worked at the market for 12 years.

"I'm moving to the United States with my daughter," she said, referring to the mainland.
Puerto Rico's per capita murder rate is six times that of the U.S. as a whole. And with violence escalating, many residents are considering joining the thousands of others who have already fled the island for brighter and safer opportunities.Pesquera says political muscle is needed to make the case to Washington, D.C., that solving the drug and crime problems here will help people on the mainland.

In many ways, Puerto Rico is America's third border, Pesquera says. Drugs that enter from Latin America can head right to the mainland without going through customs. According to Pesquera, 80 percent of the drugs that come through the island end up in cities and communities on the East Coast.

In an area called Old San Juan — a touristy spot in the capital — cobblestone streets and trendy cafes paint a paradise that's described in all the tour books. But Luis Romero says there's more to the scene than visitors may notice.

Julian Romero (center) is seen with his parents, Marie Rodriquez and Luis Romero, on his 20th birthday, April 18, 2011. He was stabbed to death later that night while celebrating with his girlfriend in the Condado neighborhood of San Juan, Puerto Rico.
Courtesy of Luis Romero
Julian Romero (center) is seen with his parents, Marie Rodriquez and Luis Romero, on his 20th birthday, April 18, 2011. He was stabbed to death later that night while celebrating with his girlfriend in the Condado neighborhood of San Juan, Puerto Rico. "Below the obvious, incredible beauty lies a very sad situation of high crime," says Romero, who was born in the neighborhood.

Romero was pulled into the war on crime when his son was killed almost two years ago on his son's birthday. After a night of celebration, his son was on a walk with his girlfriend in a well-lit area when a 14-year-old stole his cellphone.

"He gives the iPhone, gives the money, but the guy decides to attack his girlfriend and stabs her twice. My son jumps in to defend her, and he died a hero. He got knifed three times. The kid is serving now 30 years in jail," Romero says. "My son is dead."


MORE: Puerto Ricans Wrestle With High Crime