The Rev. Wadie Lanier saw something unusual as she drove to her Mansfield Street home in north Hartford. The pastor of the New Temple of God Church on nearby Barbour Street observed about eight cruisers Thursday night at Westland and Garden streets - hotspots for drugs and violence. Nearby, a couple of young men were in handcuffs.
"It was terrible and ironic to see so many cruisers in the neighborhood," said Lanier.
Terrible, because that many cops on the street isn't exactly a testament to the safety of the neighborhood. Ironic, because that kind of police overkill is rarely seen, unless there is a surge of unsolved crimes – and a media frenzy.
Deputy Police Chief Neil Dryfe and the Hartford Police were actually conducting a DWI checkpoint that night. The selection of Westland and Garden, however, was no coincidence.
Since May 24, 16 people have been shot in the Albany Avenue area. Shootings and drive-bys once again are escalating as summer approaches.
Comparing crime statistics of January-May 2004, just before Police Chief Harnett was hired, to the same period two years later, shootings were up 74 percent, shooting victims have increased 86 percent, and murders are up 66 percent.
A show of strength is something north Hartford dwellers better get accustomed to in the next few weeks. The HPD is doubling – from seven to 14 – then number of tactical street unit officers, and the state police are rolling into town again next week.
But the police presence alone won’t be enough. As much as we’re witnessing a public safety crisis, it’s much more a reflection of a serious predicament at home.
There’s been a complete breakdown of adult supervision, resulting in a small group of self-styled hoods “making a conscious lifestyle decision,” as Dryfe put it Friday. “They’re enthusiastic about a thug or gangsta-type of lifestyle. Shooting and getting shot is a badge of honor. Going to prison is right up there.
Mugs of about 35 of the worst young guns line a wall of the Albany Avenue substation. There, Dryfe was giving Mayor Eddie Perez the 411 on what new police deployments would be used over the weekend.
Meanwhile, Lanier will be trying a different approach. She is the president of the Women’s Conference of Ministries Inc. The nonprofit group is hosting an “At Risk Teen Girls” summit next weekend at the Hartford Hilton. Lanier is praying the conference will help young girls make better decisions that lead to fewer teenage pregnancies.
“They’re not mature enough to become mothers, and when they do have the children, it’s either a mother or grandmother who has to step in and raise the child,” Lanier said. “The child doesn’t obey the parent, then they’re out on the street after that, not receiving the upbringing that they really should.”
So much of this mindless street violence can be traced to absentee fathers. But when mothers are equally ill-equipped as parents, it can be devastating.
The Boys & Girls Clubs of Hartford and Phoenix Companies Inc. have teamed to host an eight-week summer youth program in July. About 200 boys and girls 13 to 18 will participate in leadership and character-building seminars, among other activities.
No, we shouldn’t expect those mugs on the police to be participants. The large majority of their peers, however, reject the shoot ‘em up lifestyle.
At least they’ll have a diversion from the madness.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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