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Memorials Prompt Crackdown in City

Mourners Talk Of Respect, But Police See Dangers

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 night.

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 said.

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. 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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