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Residents Raise Language Barrier Concerns After South O Shootings

Lindsey Theis

Residents Raise Language Barrier Concerns After South O Shootings

CREATED Jun. 18, 2013

Omaha, NE - After the shooting rampage Saturday in south Omaha, some in the neighborhood are asking for help with the language barrier. Parts of south Omaha have been largely populated by Spanish speakers for decades. 

"Every family should be able to know, I don't care what language it is, they should be able to know how to call 911," said Virgil Patlan. 
 
Patlan says he and his wife were near one of the shootings, at 34th and F. Patlan says his wife tried to help one of the shooting victims, but also helped call 911 because those nearby couldn't speak English.
 
Omaha Police Officer James Shade says the department has a number of bilingual officers on the streets. He adds that the captains and sergeants all have language cards, which list the native language and its English translation. 
 
"A victim or witness just needs to point to their language," he said. 
 
From there, the officer dials a language hotline, which has more than 800 dialects.  
 
Councilman Garry Gernandt, who was just re-elected to a fourth term serving South Omaha on the city council says the hotline has been long in place and doesn't think there, is a language barrier in South Omaha.
 
"For that to be a problem, I find that a bitter pill to swallow. That coming up now. We worked on that years ago and it's still in place," Gernadnt said.
 
Shade says he has used the language line for Russian, Sudanese, and Spanish.
 
As we were interviewing Shade at police headquarters, KMTV met Koang Dhuordieng. He was helping translate Nuer, a Sudanese dialect, for a friend who was filling out a police report. 
 
He says language barriers aren't just happening in the Spanish speaking neighborhoods. 
 
"There are Sudanese elders that do not speak English. And if they took initiative to call 911, they'd have an issue to explain what had happened exactly," Dhuordieng said.
 
Shade says officers also must be sensitive to the different cultural expectations. For example, in many of the Spanish speaking neighborhoods, it's acceptable to translate through children. In the Sudanese ones, it's insulting.  
 
Dhuordieng does add that it to some extent; it's up to those in the community to learn the language of their new home. 
 
"Assimilate to American culture so they can learn exactly what is going on in community and how they want to live their life," he said.

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