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Trinity Assault Was Brutal, Yes, But It's Too Early To Draw Conclusions

By Rick Green

March 06, 2012

A month ago, a man was found unconscious on a dark street in Hartford. Nobody paid much attention, except his family and the police who found him.

When Dartanyon Blake died days later due to blunt trauma, there was only a short paid obituary. There was no press conference, no outrage, and certainly no dramatic meetings with the mayor.

The brutal assault of a young man at Trinity College is a different story, meriting front page news, urgent meetings, and renewed efforts to fortify the liberal arts school from the impoverished neighborhood that surrounds it. There's fresh talk of limiting access to Summit Street and other neighborhood streets near the school to protect students.

A young man was viciously attacked, we should never lose sight of that. Police investigating the crime haven't.

I get why this is a big story. Hartford desperately needs Trinity, a powerhouse employer and economic engine for the city and region. Trinity, which competes for affluent students against colleges with rural more tranquil campuses, desperately needs a safe campus. And Trinity students, faculty and parents, justifiably, are outraged about this attack.

But let's be careful about the conclusions we jump to.

"There have been multiple and very forthright discussions with Hartford's mayor, Pedro Segarra, and Hartford's chief of police, James Rovella, urging them to increase police patrol frequency and vigilance around the Trinity camps,'' said Trinity President Jimmy Jones in an email to the school Tuesday afternoon. "Even more substantial action must be taken immediately, commensurate with the seriousness of concerns about Trinity's safety environment."

A prominent blog post from an anonymous student went further: "I'm upset that school resources are being spent on rethinking social policies instead of on keeping students safe on campus. I'm upset that President Jones and the trustees of the college are clearly more concerned with image than with actually protecting and listening to the students on campus."

Commentary online has been more strident, declaring that Hartford is "a war zone" patrolled by cars "full of animals."

Whoa. The truth here is we don't know who committed the attack except that they weren't black, according to police and eyewitness reports. And Trinity, to survive, can't shut out the neighborhood that, for better or worse, surrounds it.

"We need to understand more about when incidents happen and why they happen and who is involved,'' said Mayor Pedro Segarra. I found him on campus, talking to students and faculty about the Sunday morning assault of Christopher Kenny near the corner of Allen Place and Summit Street. Kenny underwent surgery after the attack and has been released from the hospital.

"The fact that this incident happened as the college has called for some action on our part, it doesn't mean that we will just respond to this one incident,'' said Segarra. "We have an incredible challenge to address the issues of crime. It's a constant tension between the resources that we have and the conditions in the community that lead to violence."

Trinity is beefing up security on campus at night. Discussions about closing, or limiting, access to Summit Street are ongoing. One longtime Trinity employee told me the "fortressing" of the school has grown since the idealistic days during the 1990s when former President Evan Dobelle often spoke about breaking down all barriers between Trinity and the surrounding Frog Hollow neighborhood.

Trinity spokeswoman Michele Jacklin told me it was "an incorrect assumption" that the school was closing out the neighborhood. "We are a good neighbor and we are a good citizen," she said. "It is not as obvious as when Evan Dobelle was president."

Jacklin noted that from the arts to continuing education courses to programs for schoolchildren to the continuing rehab of homes in the surrounding area, Trinity remains a big part of Hartford.

"We are looking at ways to manage access so incidents like what happened on Sunday morning can be averted,'' Jacklin said. "Trinity is not retreating from its commitment to Hartford. We are not going to say to the people of Hartford you are not welcome here."

Trinity, undoubtedly, will be a safer place to walk around at 2 a.m.. Streets may be closed, cameras installed, and a substantial reward could be offered.

Meanwhile, the police have opened an investigation into the anonymous passing of Dartanyon Blake, who was in his late 30s. There are no suspects.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
| Last update: September 25, 2012 |
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