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Residents of downtown San Jose are planning to march down South First Street this evening to raise awareness about what they say is an increase in prostitution and drug dealing in their neighborhood. “First Street is open for business — but not the good kind,” said Omar Torres, executive director of Santa Maria Urban Ministry. Torres’ ministry has partnered with the Guadalupe Washington Neighborhood Organization to organize the event. The march is scheduled to begin at 6:30 p.m. in front of the Biblioteca Latinoamericana at 921 S. First St. and last about an hour. Torres said he expects about 100 community members to attend. Since the Police Department’s vice unit, which dealt specifically with prostitution, gambling and other issues, was disbanded last year because of budget cuts, Torres said people in his neighborhood began seeing more prostitution on First Street.
He said the situation is especially troubling because the illicit activity happens right in the path of the community’s youth — near Washington Elementary School, the library branch, and the Washington United Youth Center, all of which are on or near South First Street. San Jose City Councilman Sam Liccardo, whose district includes the neighborhood, said in a statement today that he plans to join the march. “Our offices and the San Jose Police Department field multiple calls every week from community members who tell us they can’t let their kids walk to the library or the bus stop for fear of being harassed by pimps or prostitutes,” Liccardo said.
Torres said prostitution occurs day and night, though he said the activity increases after 6 p.m. “You blatantly see women standing on the corner in high heels pretending to talk on cellphones with practically nothing on … cars slowing down for them, asking them how much they are,” Torres said. Torres said he hopes the march will be one way for the community to fight back, “to let everyone know that we’re fed up with what’s been going on on South First Street and we’re not going to let it happen anymore.”
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