Fourth Annual Community Event A Mark Of Progress Against Violence In North End
July 30, 2006
By JESSE LEAVENWORTH, Courant Staff Writer
Saturday was for the good people of Martin Street.
Violence over the past several years has kept some residents of the North End neighborhood in Hartford in self-imposed lockdown.
People have been killed and wounded, gunshots have peppered apartment buildings, and thugs are still too easily armed.
But community activists, police officers and residents who gathered Saturday for a day of summer fun say there are people on Martin Street who work two or three jobs, want to live peacefully and want to give their kids a better life.
The good news, according to residents and police, is that the violent atmosphere has calmed a bit.
"It used to be like Mardi Gras every night," Martin Street resident Mendie Cade said.
The fourth annual Stop the Violence Community Day was part of a continuing effort to bring lasting change to the troubled neighborhood.
Sponsored by the city police department, Hope Street Ministries and Carabetta Realty & Management, the event included bounce houses for kids set up in the street, basketball and double-dutch jump-rope competitions, hot dogs, hamburgers and other refreshments, and gospel music pulsing a message of hope and redemption from giant speakers in front of the Johnson-Stewart Community Center.
Police had cordoned off one block of Martin Street for the celebration, and state and city police officers mingled with the crowd of kids and adults.
"Thank you, thank you, Jesus," went the gospel refrain, as Brother Henry Brown, director of Mothers United Against Violence, and Connie Dollack, director of Hope Street Ministries, talked about the value of bringing residents, activists and police officers together.
Police, who have had an active role in the community day since it began, are a welcome presence, Brown said, particularly for the children.
"We want them to understand that it's all right to rub elbows with the police department," he said.
Hartford Officer Steven Austin, a city native who has walked a beat in the neighborhood for the past 1½ years, has an office in the community center.
Austin, 43, who graduated in the same Weaver High School class as actor Eriq LaSalle of "ER" fame, said he wants neighborhood kids to see possibilities beyond violence and hopelessness.
"I'm one of them as much as I am one of these," Austin said, pointing to his uniform.
City police statistics show that in the Northeast District, which includes Martin Street, serious crime declined about 9.3 percent through July 15, compared with the same period last year.
Shooting incidents, however, have risen slightly this year in the area, and the number of shooting victims increased from 52 in the 2005 period to 69 so far this year, according to the statistics at www.hartford.gov.
Retired city police Lt. G. Malik Merritt, who continues to be active in North End programs, said part of reducing those statistics involves gatherings such as Saturday's event.
"We couldn't get community support if they felt alienated," Merritt said.
Austin, Merritt and the Rev. Donald Johnson Sr., of Hope Street Ministries, all said a big part of the problem is parental responsibility.
"The kids are out there doing their own thing," Johnson said. "We've got to be more parental-minded."
But there are other pieces of the overall solution, including creating more places for neighborhood kids to learn and play, and obtaining more resources to rehabilitate and employ adult residents returning from prison, Johnson said.
The media, he said, also should play a role. When someone is gunned down in the North End, reporters call his cellphone "until the batteries go dead," but none of them have been interested in covering events such as Saturday's gathering, Johnson said.
"We need to show some positivity," he said.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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