The man known to legions of friends and admirers in the capital city as "Brother Carl" is mending. When I caught up with Carl Hardrick last week, the 72-year-old Hartford antiviolence mediator was still bruised about the face and probably more emotionally scarred than he was willing to admit.
He had endured a pummeling by a group of youths as he walked alone to his North Hartford home one recent night. The misfits got away with nothing more than Hardrick's reading glasses, though Hardrick heard one of the youths ask if he should shoot Hardrick.
His assault has outraged the Hartford community, including police officers and gang members. Hardrick is an institution here, one of the few people who can actually bring rival gang members to the table, successfully mediate disputes and keep the peace.
Whether they are a Los Solidos, Latin King, 20 Love, Ghetto Brothers or from some other set, they know of Brother Carl.
On the streets there is a code that has perplexed police officers and community leaders for years: "snitches get stitches." But Hardrick's beat down, according to folks I've talked to, has resulted in a temporary suspension of that stance. Young people who know of Hardrick's heartfelt efforts to stop the violence are seething. They want his attackers caught -- and have let it be known via social media that they will be giving up information when they hear it.
This could be an important turning point for police-community relations at a time when the Hartford Police Department is trying to recover from racially insensitive remarks made by a sergeant and a dispatcher in radio transmissions.
"This is an opportunity," Hardrick said in an interview on my TV show last week, online at www.foxct.com/stan. "If we can get (youths) to see it's a problem and get them to address it collectively, then we can beat this problem. ... If we don't clean it up here, what happens in the city eventually happens in the suburbs."
In Hardrick's case a moral code is trumping the street code. That moral underpinning is that it is cowardly, even demonic, for a bunch of kids to find satisfaction in beating up an old man.
I am curious to see who these guys are myself. I'm betting what you'll see are kids doing very poorly in school, reared in unstable homes and without a strong male presence. The tough hand they may have been dealt is no excuse. These misguided kids, it should be remembered, are not representative of the majority of good kids in the city and in North Hartford who may share similar backgrounds. The ones who roughed up Hardrick are probably part of the small percentage who just happen to cause a disproportionate amount of the trouble.
Ironically, it's that father-figure role that so connected Hardrick to beefing rivals. They knew he cared about them and wanted to see them have productive lives.
I hope police find the attackers first before the wrong person in the community does. Hardrick has spent 50 years of his life counseling against that sort of tit-for-tat retaliation. For now, he and the police are heartened by the community's cooperation.
"The beauty in all this is that I didn't know so many kids were concerned," Hardrick said, recalling hospital visits from crying teens. "It hit Facebook and it just went wild."
Life can deliver some interesting twists. In the course of half a century, Hardrick has gone from high profile antiviolence mediator to victim of a violent crime. He is a proud, tough and honorable man. He concedes to being angry initially about being jumped and realizes that not every 72-year-old could have survived to talk about it.
"I had to let that go," Hardrick said of his emotions. "I cannot let this defeat me. I'll still walk the streets. I have to take this negative and turn it into a positive. ... In this kind of business you understand that things can happen. I've been fortunate. This is the first time."
And that's what is so disturbing. The attack on Brother Carl does a disservice to his courageous work and lives he's saved over the decades.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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