If there's one good thing that will come of Hartford's ill-advised emergency curfew that starts Thursday, it's that we won't have to hear the parroted line from city hall — say it with me now — "crime is actually down."
Well, not exactly. Shootings are up 28 percent. The number of shooting victims is up 58 percent. The fear index is through the roof. And Hartford Police Chief Daryl Roberts and Mayor Eddie Perez have pushed the panic button in ordering a 9 p.m. curfew for those 18 and under.
Just so you know, I'm a reformed curfew advocate. Can't tell you how many times I've seen youngsters roaming city streets at times they should be in bed and wondered why the cops can't send them on their way.
But the courts have found curfews unconstitutional. Most recently, the U.S. 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals shot down Vernon's 2006 plans for an 11 p.m. curfew, saying it violated children's rights to assemble and unduly singled them out.
Plus, curfews only mask the real problem with wayward kids — they come from homes with little structure or discipline.
If the city wants to get a handle on why teens are out late on the streets, it has to get a grasp on the home lives. What people will find, for the most part, is the absence of a father — almost 70 percent of Hartford households with children are headed by single parents.
The great majority are working or weary mothers. Or maybe there's a grandma serving as a guardian, or a big brother or sister acting as a surrogate parent. The lack of a strong male presence at home is the biggest contributor to this mindless violence.
Eleven shootings in 36 hours, most of the victims being kids, is obscene. But this is not really a Hartford police issue or a public policy issue. It is a social issue, one rooted in the breakdown of the family, specifically dads missing in action.
"These young kids, these young black kids, need some guidance," said Trudyann Brown, a North Hartford single mother of three children, two of whom are in college. Daughter Destiny Fraser, 13, is an honor student who'll be attending Classical Magnet School next year. "I mean, we're only mothers, we can only take so much. These kids do need a male figure in their lives."
Brown was one of the several hundred in attendance at the Greater Hartford Pro-Am Summer Basketball League playoffs Monday at Fox Middle School. Games ended past 10 p.m. A large portion of the big crowd is composed of teenagers. The matchups are competitive. The crowds are orderly. The event — featuring pro, college and high school stars — serves as a positive diversion.
Providing quality programs, whether it's athletics, computer training or even a book club, when you open a school or a Y or a Boys and Girls Club after hours, can serve as a healthy respite.
Granted, they are no substitute for an involved dad, but they do keep teenagers occupied and out of trouble.
"There is a connectivity between violent crime and lack of a father figure," said Phillip Davis, director of the Fatherhood Project at the Village for Family and Children. "I can't give you any scientific research. I can tell you what I see in the prisons."
When he visits prisoners in an attempt to reconnect fathers to families, Davis always asks the inmates how many have never had a father in their lives. "Ninety-nine percent will raise their hands," he said. "And these are guys from Hartford."
It's dads, not detentions for breaking curfews, that are the remedy for the street violence.
"I believe that most young men want to be guided," Davis said. "The fact that they do what they do is actually a cry out for that guidance and for somebody to come into their lives."
When he talks to inmates about the "experience of not having a dad," Davis said, many begin to cry.
It's an emotional release that on the streets can turn into a violent one.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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