When Stockton city leaders held a town hall meeting this past week about public safety as police continue to investigate at least seven homicides believed to be linked to each other, several Spanish speakers voiced their frustrations and disappointment that they were left out of the conversation because of language barriers.

While the audience of the Oct. 5 meeting, hosted at Victory in Praise Church by the group Faith in the Valley and the city of Stockton, was able to hear statistics from law enforcement about the city having 43 homicides and 110 non-fatal shootings this year and 40 of the 43 homicide victims being people of color, Spanish speakers were not able to follow along due to a lack of translation services.

“We had some technical difficulties with our equipment and so I apologize to you deeply from my heart,” said Toni McNeil, a community organizer with Faith in the Valley. “There was no translation that was provided for you … I cannot apologize to you for that enough, to have disrespected your time that you made.”

Luis Magaña and Beatriz Barajas said they came to the meeting to get more information about the community’s safety but were unable to comprehend what speakers were saying.

“People were dying to give their opinion, but they didn’t,” Magaña said in Spanish.

“People were dying to give their opinion, but they didn’t,” said Luis Magaña, a Spanish-speaking Stockton resident who attended the Public Safety Community Town Hall in Stockton on Oct. 5, 2022. (Photo by Harika Maddala/Bay City News/Catchlight Local)

Magaña said he came to the meeting in hopes to gather information about how residents can stay safe and what new information police have about the shootings so he could pass that knowledge on to other Spanish speakers in his community.

During the Q&A portion of the meeting, questions were asked about field and migrant workers who have to leave their homes before dawn to get to work but are too afraid with a shooter potentially roaming the streets.

“Remember our folks who work in the field, what time do they get up,” said Luz Sauceda, health educator for El Concilio, a nonprofit organization that offers a multitude of services primarily to the Hispanic population of the Central Valley. “Those are the ones we are most concerned about they get up and wait for their ride … but they are waiting for their ride outside their home.”

Stockton Police Chief Stanley McFadden told attendees to stay vigilant, avoid dark areas during late hours of the night and that there’s safety in numbers.

Luz Sauceda, health educator for El Concilio, speaks about Spanish-speaking field workers during the Public Safety Community Town Hall. Sauceda addressed the need for Spanish translation at the meeting. (Photo by Harika Maddala/Bay City News/Catchlight Local)

According to police, a 35-year-old man, a 43-year-old man, a 21-year-old man, a 52-year-old man and a 54-year-old man were allegedly victims of the same suspect or suspects.

Last year, the killings of a 46-year-old woman in Stockton and a 40-year-old man in Oakland may also be linked to the other homicide cases, police said.

McFadden said police have been partnering with the FBI, the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, the U.S. Marshals Service, and other task forces to find more information about the person or people responsible for the shootings.

The Spanish speakers were told that for future meetings there will be translators for them and that information from last week’s town hall would be given to them the following day.

“Unfortunately, the church was trying to be very inclusive, but their mechanism wasn’t working,” said Ines Ruiz-Huston, El Concilio’s vice president of special programs and operations. “We had translators but unfortunately we didn’t have an opportunity to make an announcement more times … I didn’t want to interrupt the session to make a few more announcements along the way.”

Victoria Franco is a reporter based in Stockton covering San Joaquin County for Bay City News Foundation and its nonprofit news site Local News Matters. She is a Report for America corps member.