Mayhem-First Mindset On Street A Perplexing Problem
February 15, 2006
Commentary By Stan Simpson
Elsie Figueroa and Luis Rivera, a couple
of New Britain teenagers with too much free time, allegedly killed
a man because they thought it would be "fun" to pick a
fight with him.
The Jan. 25 stabbing serves as an indirect
backdrop for what could only be called an emergency summit Gov.
M. Jodi Rell convened Tuesday with more than a dozen urban mayors
and Public Safety Commissioner Leonard Boyle. The topic: an excessive
number of guns on the streets - and the willingness of the young
guns in the neighborhoods to shoot people, even at the slightest
Though no gun was involved in the Figueroa
and Rivera case, it is the youths' mindset for mayhem that presents
elected officials with an even more perplexing problem.
"They were just looking for a
fight," New Britain Mayor Timothy Stewart said. "They
ended up stabbing a 34-year-old man to death on a street corner.
There were no drugs or guns. It was just the mentality. What makes
people think like that? I don't understand it."
Jonathan Castro of Hartford, a high
school freshman, said that behavior concerns him, and he frets about
his younger sisters, ages 12 and 10.
"I'm only 16," he said, waiting
on the corner of Main Street and Albany Avenue for a bus home. "I'm
not even an adult, and I don't want to die at an early age like
a couple of people I knew."
Henrietta Beckman of Hartford still
mourns for her 20-year-old son Randy. He was shot dead four years
ago while in a car on Cleveland Avenue, an apparent case of mistaken
identity. There have been no arrests.
Mindless shootings over even the mildest
of confrontations or perceived slights aren't just isolated in Connecticut.
The New York Times last Sunday gave front-page treatment to similar
gun-related fatalities stemming from petty beefs in other urban
centers, including Milwaukee, Houston, Boston, New York and Philadelphia.
How bad is the violence problem in
Connecticut's cities? Bridgeport Mayor John Fabrizi called it an
"epidemic" - and he's not even running for governor.
All the obligatory solutions were tossed
out after the governor's meeting, including tougher legislation
for illegal guns, more money for after-school and faith-based programs,
state and local police partnerships and re-entry programs for ex-felons.
But few had answers for how to change the mayhem-first mindset rooted
in a small but destructive segment.
A band of Hartford residents who rallied
Tuesday afternoon on Main Street blamed movies, music videos, video
games, even cartoons for creating a culture in which firing a gun
in anger is acceptable behavior.
They lamented how the guys with the
guns intimidate the good folks in the neighborhoods, which then
leads the good neighbors to start thinking that maybe they too should
start packin' for protection.
Meanwhile, the distrust between the
police and the neighbors is palpable.
Angie Sutton, 28, of Hartford said
urban violence is a reflection of despair. A lack of parenting skills,
respect and values are also elements, she said, that shouldn't be
"If the parents have lost the
way, then the children have no way," said Sutton, whose father,
James Washington, was murdered four years ago inside the convenience
store he owned on Enfield Street in Hartford. "So, it's almost
like we have to redevelop morals and a value system all over again."
Instead of a political solution, this
calls for a spiritual one.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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