June 3, 2006
By TINA A. BROWN, Courant Staff Writer
In the continuing battle against an outbreak of violence in Hartford's North End, the mayor gave a pep talk Friday to police. The governor announced that state troopers were on the way.
And Eddie Santiago watched a short film about gun violence, and pondered what should be done.
Santiago, 16, looked pained and introspective as he stood with others on a Washington Street sidewalk watching the film being shown on a screen on the side of a bus. Some of the images reminded him of the violence he has witnessed in the city.
"Now, you've got 16 people shot in one week," said Santiago. "It's crazy."
Santiago, a 10th-grader at the Hartford Transitional Learning Academy, feared that kind of danger when he lived on Center Street, where the neighborhood gang calls itself "C-Block." They fought other groups, Santiago said, but now youths are settling beefs with guns.
Santiago saw himself on the road to nowhere. He was locked up six times and remembered the fear of having a gun pointed at him. He decided to change, and now he wants others to follow in his path.
"If I had the opportunity to bring back the people who been shot in the past, I would," Santiago said. "I feel there will be more shooting. They [his peers] are addicted to the violence. I'm just afraid for my friends out there. They haven't learned."
Among the victims of the five-day spate of shootings that ended Sunday was a 15-year-old boy, who was killed. The shootings spurred demands for an end to the violence, but also led to a public spat between Gov. M. Jodi Rell and Mayor Eddie Perez.
On Friday, Perez visited the Albany Avenue substation and met with a dozen extra police officers assigned to North End neighborhoods this weekend. The same day, Rell said state police would be sent to assist city police this summer.
"Too many young people - many of them innocent bystanders - have found themselves victims of this senseless violence," Rell said in a statement. "Mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters, are grieving and we cannot and will not stand idly by."
The students and academy staff are well aware of the violence. For the past two weeks, students have talked about it. And, on Friday, they watched a 20-minute documentary called "Bullets in the Hood - A Bed-Stuy Story" about 19-year Terrence Fisher, who has lost eight friends to street violence, and Phyllis Clayburne, whose 19-year-old son was killed by a New York city police officer.
It's a story that school Principal Dwight Fleming says his students know all too well. One student was stabbed to death last year at the McDonald's restaurant down the street; another was fatally wounded in gang violence, and four relatives of a staff member were shot on Westland Street last weekend.
Many times after a youngster is killed, Fleming said, "they are wiped out [with grief]."
The students at the academy come from all over the city and represent many of the neighborhood gangs. Very few of them battle it out inside the school, however.
Israel Zea, the school's resident police officer, said he made eight or nine arrests a day three years ago.
That number has fallen to two a week, because the students know that violence is not tolerated inside the school.
"This school has improved," Zea said. "The only way they can change is to educate them about their choices. You have an opportunity to change."
Students, parents and staff said Friday that they are bracing for more violence on the streets of Hartford. After 15-year-old Kerry Foster was killed on his porch in a drive-by shooting last week, Janet Rice said her son is no longer allowed to sit on the front porch.
"You can see how terrified I am right now," said Rice, who suggested that the city enforce a curfew until the violence subsides.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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