'Shooting Team,' Curfew Announced After Weekend Violence In City
By JEFFREY B. COHEN | Courant Staff Writer
August 12, 2008
Debra Roberts had already lost her oldest son to a bullet, so when her son Ezekiel came home crying earlier this summer that a friend of his had been shot, she said he needed to watch what he did and watch who he did it with.
"If you all don't stop doing what you're doing, what do you think is going to happen?" she told her son, Ezekiel Roberts. "Y'all all going to be shot up."
"If he was still in jail, maybe he wouldn't have gotten killed. But the way they're living out here today, it was a matter of time," Roberts said Monday, sitting in the front room of her mother's house, surrounded by family. "Because everybody's shooting everybody."
Ezekiel Roberts, 21, died Saturday night — the oldest of seven people shot at the end of the city's annual West Indian parade, the only one of the bloody weekend's 11 shooting victims to die. A 7-year-old boy was upgraded Monday to serious condition. The city has said it believes the parade shootings were gang-related, chalking them up not to the old-school, highly organized gangs of the 1990s, but rather to fluid groups of young, armed teenagers.
Police say Ezekiel Roberts, who was on probation in connection with a fatal stabbing, was the target of the parade shootings. No arrests have been made.
On Monday morning, Mayor Eddie A. Perez and Police Chief Daryl K. Roberts — the slain man's relative — held a press conference to announce what Perez said were "tough new measures" to secure the city. Some of the measures — like its "most watched list" of people who pose a safety risk — were already in motion. Another was a curfew from 9 p.m. to 5 a.m. for all people 18 and under, beginning Thursday night. The curfew — already on the books, but now to be enforced — will last for 30 days. They also announced the formation of a "shooting team" in conjunction with state prosecutors to investigate gun crimes.
But the weekend's shootings also left city and state officials pointing fingers.
Perez and Roberts, who said he never met Ezekiel, said there is only so much the city's police department can do.
Roberts' force is doing its part, they said.
It's the justice system that isn't, Perez said.
"The shooting at the West Indian parade, we believe, would likely have never had happened if the state had done its job and locked up Ezekiel Roberts," Perez said.
Ezekiel Roberts was found guilty on March 3 of accessory to first-degree assault in the fatal stabbing of 17-year-old Hiram David Colon in East Hartford in 2006, court records show. Roberts was one of six who played a role in the stabbing, but police could not determine who delivered the fatal wound.
And Ezekiel Roberts had been arrested four times this summer already — twice for criminal trespass, once for possessing a small amount of marijuana, and once for violating his probation.
Had he been put into jail, Perez and Roberts said, he might still be alive.
"We're just asking them to do their job," Roberts said. "They ask a lot of me, right? Fair is fair."
But Gail Hardy, the Hartford's state's attorney, said that it's not that easy. Ezekiel Roberts didn't get out of jail free — she said he got out because the police only gave him a $50,000 bond and he paid his way out.
Then there's the larger problem, she said. Violent criminals are often being arrested on nonviolent charges that wind up in community court.
"If you know this is a person known to carry firearms, if you know this is a person who is suspected of shooting someone else, why don't you build that case and then send that case over to us that establishes that the person is a violent individual?" Hardy said. "Those aren't the cases that we've gotten."
"We need our police officers to concentrate on putting a good case together that we're able to prosecute," she said.
The weekend's 10 other victims included 7-year-old Tyreke Marquis, who was upgraded to serious condition Monday from critical condition, and 17-month-old Zinia Jackson, who police said was shot in the leg.
None of it comes as much solace to Debra Roberts. In death, she says, her son is being victimized again by people like Perez who blame much of the weekend's violence on the fact that her son wasn't in jail. He was trying. He got his GED in jail. He was looking for jobs, she said. And now he's dead, leaving behind a 4-year-old son.
"He wasn't a bad kid. OK, he might have got into the wrong crowd, hung with the wrong people," she said. "But ain't none of them perfect. My son, he was bad in his way, too. But he wasn't the baddest."
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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