The Rev. Henry Brown used a bullhorn to gather a crowd Tuesday at the corner of Cleveland Avenue and Main Street in Hartford, the site of Saturday’s shooting that left one dead and six wounded.
When several dozen people had congregated next to the Cleveland Café, he preached with emotion about responsibility and called on elected officials and police to work with the community to take back its streets. In particular, Brown called on Gov. M. Jodi Rell to take a stand against the violence.
“If we were in a white community she’d be right here,” Brown said. “What’s so different about our kids?”
Pam Joiner, whose 25-year-old son Jumar Joiner was shot and killed in Hartford in May, knows all too well how difficult it may be to solicit a response from the governor. Joiner and her sisters spent the weeks following Jumar’s murder collecting more than a 1,000 signatures for a petition calling on the governor and the city to come together and express their concerns about violence on the streets of Hartford.
At the rally Tuesday Joiner said she still hadn’t heard from the governor’s office. She said her son was the seventh homicide of the year in May, and “now we’re on 22.”
She added: “How many more is it going to be?”
Brown said that “God is telling us that there have to be changes in Hartford. He added that temporary fixes are not the answer, that permanent solutions are needed. He said the 30-day curfew for youth under the age of 18 is a good idea, “But what are we going to do about the daytime shootings?”
And, he asked the crowd, “Why did it take the shooting of a 7-year-old boy and 15 month old baby to get their attention?”
Turning to Debra Roberts, whose 21-year-old son Ezekiel Roberts died in Saturday’s shooting, Brown asked if the governor called her family to express condolences, like she had done for the lone survivor of the deadly Cheshire home invasion. As Roberts shook her head back and forth, Brown seemed to change his rhetoric slightly, saying, “It’s not her responsibility, it’s ours.”
He said the community has to take responsibility, too. “Blame anyone you want, but blame starts at home,” Brown said.
Brown said that when parents fail to correct their children, community members must step up and do it for them – including spanking or slapping a disrespectful child, no matter what the state Department of Children and Families has to say.
Brown also was happy to see several clergy members aside from himself in attendance, including the Rev. Richard Huleatt from the First Church of Windsor, among others.
State Rep. Marie Lopez Kirkley-Bey, who was in the midst of a heated primary battle Tuesday, took a break from the campaign trail to attend the rally. “If there was an answer it would have already been done,” she said. She also said that her heart ached for the shooting victims this weekend.
In order to resolve violence in the city, Kirkley-Bey said, “I believe we have to address poverty and literacy.” She said she’s currently trying to help a 40-year-old ex-felon find work. But with six convictions on his record, she said it’s hard for him to find a job that pays better than the street, though that’s not where he wants to be anymore.
Republican Councilwoman Veronica Airey-Wilson also attended the rally. She said the city is working to secure funding for a new sensor system that will pinpoint the location of gunfire for police. She said the technology is expensive, but it works and helps improve response time.
She said she also is working on reaching out to local churches to give kids a place to go after school. In addition to finishing renovations at the Kelvin Anderson Community Center, Airey-Wilson said she hopes the schools will stay open late to make sure kids have a place to go.
As for the shooting, Airey-Wilson said, “The act that occurred here on Saturday was a terrorist act.”