March 23, 2005
By TINA A. BROWN, Courant Staff Writer
A half-dozen men and
women sat on milk crates in front of dozens of burning candles
and empty liquor and beer bottles Tuesday as they quietly remembered
Geronimo "Colorado" Urbaez, who was fatally shot
Monday morning in downtown Hartford.
This urban ritual, which has become all too common on the streets
of Hartford after someone dies violently, had a different and
uneasy mood about it. The mourners had been evicted from two
other locations on Park Street, and now for a third time in 24
hours, Hartford police were shutting them down.
Hartford police Capt. Jose Lopez Sr. told the group that he
would be back in two hours and didn't expect them to be there.
They were trespassing and creating a potential fire hazard, Lopez
said in English and in Spanish.
Lopez later said he was trying to avoid a repeat of an incident
Monday night in which 18 people were arrested on minor charges
at a memorial for Urbaez. Police said they heard eight to 10
shots fired in the crowd and found the shell casings under a
staircase after they cleared the 50 or so mourners from an alleyway
between two buildings.
Lopez, who was appointed commander of the Park Street area last
month, said he won't tolerate memorials that attract illegal
loitering, drinking, drug use and violence.
"I'm as sensitive as the next guy. Don't tell me that you
have rights to burn candles and drink Hennessy and do drugs," he
said. "There's a big fear of us hurting somebody's feelings.
But mourning shouldn't negatively impact others," especially
people who live around the memorial who are trying to sleep at
Lopez said the memorial site on Park Street was not the first
time in recent weeks he had ordered a shrine dismantled. He said
he also ordered the removal of memorials outside of the McDonald's
where Renaldo Batista, 14, was fatally stabbed last month and
another memorializing the same boy on Kibbe Street.
These are not "cultural things," Lopez said. "It's
more a fad. It's not a positive way of mourning.
"I will do whatever I
can to avoid violence. They were warned two or three times.
If they are hurting, they should get counseling. Mourning is
not screaming, yelling and shooting. It should not be used
as a disguise to hang out."
Commanders of other parts of the city have not generally cracked
down on the public shrines. Mayor Eddie A. Perez said there is
no city ordinance that bans them.
After Lopez left the rear of the building in the 700 block of
Park Street, the mourners took the opportunity to vent. Some
of them said they were unfairly targeted when others around the
city are allowed to mourn in peace.
"We're out here showing respect. They got arrested for
no reason," Zory Vasquez, 34, said, referring to the 18
people charged Monday night.
While Urbaez, 23, lived on King Street, his friends said they
congregated on Park Street - and posted the flag from the Dominican
Republic and a picture of the ultrasound of his unborn child
on a porch banister - because he was known in the area and worked
at a local Caribbean grocery store with his mother.
"He was like a son to me," Vasquez
Urbaez was gunned down early Monday
after an argument that police said began inside Club Blu on Ann
Street, across from the Hartford Civic Center. Police and a witness
said Urbaez was chased from the bar to a nearby parking lot.
He made it to his green Cadillac when two or three male attackers
shot out his rear and side windows, a witness said Monday.
After the shooting, emergency
medical workers were giving Urbaez CPR and other medical treatment
inside his car when "the
victim moved his body position, causing one of the victim's legs
to hit the accelerator," police said in a press release.
The car sped forward across the street and into the parking lot
at 289 Asylum St. before slamming into a brick building.
Police had not identified as suspects as of Tuesday evening.
Vasquez said Urbaez, a former part-time worker at UPS, was a
normal kid trying to make a decent living for himself. She was
troubled that Lopez was adamant that the memorial be removed.
"Let them spent some time," Vasquez said of the teenagers. "They're
not robbing nobody. They're not out there selling drugs. They
are just trying to show some respect."
Sarah Cruz, who said she had known Urbaez for nine years, said
she talked to her landlord before allowing the memorial to be
placed outside of her back door. She said she didn't have a problem
with it despite the fears by Lopez and others that the burning
candles could be a fire hazard.
On Tuesday afternoon, mourners placed the candle holders onto
10 milk crates and carted them around the corner, where they
set up another memorial in front of an abandoned building.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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