Clergy and community members from the Capitol region came together Tuesday morning and tried to set aside their geographical, theological, and political differences to collectively call for an end to the violence on Hartford’s streets.
Some criticized Gov. M. Jodi Rell over their perception that she has not reacted to shootings in Hartford – a predominantly minority community – as strongly as she did a year ago to the deadly home invasion in Cheshire – a predominantly white community. Rell’s spokesman vehemently refuted those criticisms Tuesday.
Others, like Pastor James Lane of the Northend Church of Christ, warned against “throwing bricks and criticizing one another.”
“Folk are doing some work, but we need to do more together,” Lane said.
All the same, the Rev. Henry Brown of Hartford, director of Mothers United Against Violence, renewed his call for Rell to address the Aug. 9 shootings that took place in a crowd after the West Indian Day parade. One youth was killed in the spray of gang-related bullets, and six others were wounded, including a 7-year-old boy and a 15-month-old girl.
After last year’s horrific and seemingly random home invasion murders in Cheshire, Rell and the legislature made changes to the criminal justice system to improve upon failings in the parole process. Rell took the extraordinary step of placing a ban on parole for several months while the reforms were being discussed. It remains to be seen whether the same effort will be made with respect to the state’s bail process, which Hartford officials faulted after the Aug. 9 parade shooting. They said the system failed when the target of the shooting, Ezekiel Roberts, made bond after his last arrest Aug. 6 despite already having a 12-year suspended sentence hanging over his head. It’s not clear whether that suspended sentence was taken into consideration when bond was set at $50,000 after his last arrest.
Up to Tuesday, neither Rell nor her office had issued so much as a public statement regarding the incident in Hartford and had even failed to return a call seeking comment after Hartford officials held a press conference to decry the violence last Monday. However, Brown said Lt. Gov. Michael Fedele had visited the 7-year-old shooting victim in the hospital last week while Rell was out of state.
“We haven’t seen one word from her, but yet when things go on in the suburban areas she’s got a quick comment,” Brown said, echoing statements he made during an Aug. 12 anti-violence vigil he organized himself at the scene of the shooting. “How can you not comment when a 7-year-old boy and a 15-month-old baby girl were struck by a bullet? And not one word. Not one word of encouragement.”
Sen. Eric Coleman, D-Hartford, called Rell’s silence “deafening.” He said he sees a difference in Rell’s response to the incidents in Hartford compared to her reaction to those in Cheshire last year. Coleman said the entire state should be reacting to the shooting of bystanders, particularly children.
Rell’s spokesman, Rich Harris, aside from refuting Coleman and Brown’s criticisms, said that Rell is deeply concerned and troubled by the recent shootings. He said the governor was receiving daily updates about the situation in Hartford while she was away.
In addition to the dozen state police troopers she dedicated to the city this summer and the $500,000 she allocated for urban youth violence prevention, Rell invested $12,000 in a basketball program for 144 Hartford kids ages 9 through 14, Harris said.
The basketball program, which was planned before the shootings, started Aug. 13 and will run through Aug. 30 at Sand Elementary School on Main Street, Harris said, adding that each youth in the program will receive a uniform, sneakers, and a backpack full of books for school. He said the program, which Rell paid for out of her office’s contingency fund, is being sponsored in collaboration with dozens of community groups, including two interfaith coalitions.
“The fact remains that she is working very hard to prevent these kinds of tragedies, not just in Hartford, but in all of Connecticut’s cities,” Harris said.
Josh Pawelek, president of the Greater Hartford Interfaith Coalition of Equity and Justice, said it is time to signal to lawmakers a new way of reacting to violence.
“And that is to say we can not solve the problem of violence with purely punitive measures,” Pawelek said. “We are tired of the constant rhetoric of three-strikes-and-you’re-out.” He concluded that the violence plaguing Hartford’s streets is a public health crisis, like an epidemic, and it needs to be dealt with in the same manner.
Merva Jackson, president of African-American Caribbean Parents of Children with Disabilities, said the community is developing a trauma response team that will connect victims of violence and their families with counseling services offered by the Wheeler Clinic and Hartford Behavioral Health.
Jackson said that if there’s anyone out there in need of these services they should call (866) 261-0893.
Brown also took the opportunity to promote a march scheduled for Monday, Aug. 25, at 10 a.m. He said he is going to march from Main Street and Albany Avenue to the state Capitol.
“Some things really need to be addressed that haven’t been addressed,” he said.
Meanwhile, Harris said that Rell’s office is working with the Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance and the Greater Hartford Interfaith Coalition for Equity and Justice on a youth violence summit to be held later this year.