Brazilian survey reveals suspicion toward Framingham police

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Brazilian survey reveals suspicion toward Framingham polic Sunday, April 13, 2008
Liz Mineo 508-626-3825 Metrowest Daily News
FRAMINGHAM -- A recent survey shows the Framingham police's effort to bridge the gap with the Brazilian community may have come up short.

Sixty-five percent of Brazilians surveyed late last year said they believed Framingham police were targeting them. Oddly enough, they said so as the police force was in the midst of a major effort to reach out to local Brazilians.

It was one of three key findings in the research that surveyed 275 Brazilians in downtown Framingham between November and early December last year. The survey forms were filled out at churches, where Brazilians from all over Massachusetts tend to congregate, and were handed to The Daily News, which tabulated the results.

The two other survey findings may change commonly held beliefs about Brazilian immigrants. Fifty-three percent of Brazilians surveyed said they were not thinking of going back home, shattering the notion that most Brazilian immigrants come here to make money and go home to reap the fruits of their labor.

And more than sixty-percent of those interviewed said they have been here five years or more, revealing that most Brazilians may no longer belong to a transient group, but may be part of a well established community.

The survey was conducted by the Brazilian Business and Community Council, a group founded by Vera Dias-Freitas, a Framingham businesswoman. It was done between November and early December by Brazilian merchants who wanted to find out why their clients had stopped shopping downtown.

"It was the worst Christmas of all for downtown businesses," said Dias-Freitas. "People always buy for Christmas even if they don't have any money. We felt there was something else why people were not coming downtown, and it was not the economy. It was the environment that had changed. Framingham had become a very unwelcoming community."

When the survey was done, the police were meeting with Brazilian civic leaders to address concerns raised in a townwide dialogue between local Brazilians and town officials. The event, held in June, was sponsored by the U.S. Department of Justice at the request of the Framingham police to craft a better relationship between local government and the Brazilian community.

But a few months after the dialogue, the Framingham police signed a memorandum of agreement with the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to send two officers to receive training on immigration law enforcement. This move may have spread fear within the Brazilian community, forcing many to stay home and avoid downtown at the end of last year, said Dias-Freitas. People were scared, she said, as rumors of immigration raids spread quickly within the tight-knit community.

Police officials were dismayed by the survey findings because it didn't seem to recognize their work to promote cooperation between the Brazilian community and local government.

"We have worked hard to foster a climate of trust in the community," said Framingham Police spokesman Paul Shastany. "Have we succeeded? I would say sometimes we haven't, but most of the time, yes, we have. But what we want to say to the community is come to us, talk to us and we can work together."

The police don't target or profile anybody, said Shastany, and they are committed to strengthening the relationship between the police and the Brazilian community, which he described as excellent, and as "a work in progress."

In Milford, Brazilian merchant Marisol Carper said Brazilians don't feel persecuted by the police.

"Brazilians think the police here understand their predicament," said Carper. "We're a smaller town than Framingham. If the police would like to round up all the illegal people here, they could very well do it."

Framingham Police Chief Steve Carl said he spoke with Brazilian civic leader Ilton Lisboa about the survey and they both believed the police were trying to improve the lives of local Brazilians by protecting them and creating better relationships with police.

Town officials highlighted the positive aspects of the research.

Erica Jerram, Framingham town's planner, said she was struck by the large numbers of people who are well-established here and not going back to Brazil.

"It recognizes it's a long standing community," said Jerram. "It says they're invested here, they have families, homes, and community. Those are good things for the town. It's encouraging and it's more positive than I have actually expected."

As for how Brazilians feel about the police she said it's "distressing," but she said a future follow-up survey may find positive changes.

"There has been a lot of effort by the police to work with the community," said Jerram. "The police have worked hard to contradict rumors in the Brazilian community that police are targeting them."

Town Manager Julian Suso said Brazilians businesses have played an important role in downtown, and they're still making positive contributions to the community.

Called Brazilian Consumer Research, the survey form included 18 questions, most of which addressed people's personal finances and consumer behavior patterns.

The study showed that a large number of Brazilians prefer Brazilian products and some would be willing to pay more for them. Most said they come downtown to buy Brazilian groceries, clothes, phone cards and CDs; wire money to relatives back home; get a haircut or have their taxes done.

Surprisingly, the survey showed most Brazilians said they have yet to be hit hard by the economic slump. Forty-eight percent said their financial situation hadn't charged and 24 percent said they were doing better. Only 27 percent said they were doing worse than in the past six months. Still, when asked about their money remittances home, more than half said they were sending less money to Brazil.

In Milford, Carper said many have been hit hard by the recession, fewer jobs, and demands to produce papers. People who used to send $1,000 home now send $200 or $300, said Carper, who wires money to Brazil from her Main Street shop. But business is slowly improving, she said.

For MetroWest Chamber of Commerce president Ted Welte, the survey may bring some unexpected answers to Brazilian merchants.

With a large number of Brazilian immigrants living here for more than five years, they may be becoming more acculturated and behaving like traditional American shoppers, Welte said.

"After five years in the country, people are more established and have a better command of English, and they're looking for bargains and patronizing discount stores," he said.

If customers are going away because they go back to Brazil or they're shopping elsewhere, it may be time for Brazilian businesses to start attracting mainstream customers, Welte said.

It may also be time for a new era in the relationship between local government and the Brazilian community. Summing up the feelings harbored at the time of the survey, a Marlborough resident wrote in a survey form: "Brazilians should be more united and willing to tackle problems in the community along with American authorities. This survey is a good start."

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