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Tell The Truth About Violence

Helen Ubiñas

October 18, 2009

How many times have Hartford residents and community leaders gathered for some meeting or summit or dog-and-pony press conference to wring their hands about the violence that plagues the city, only to find themselves in the same situation again and again.

Dodging bullets.

Holding vigils.

Burying the dead.

Futilely trying to find answers while our esteemed leaders repeat easy bromides: Overall crime is down; good people have nothing to fear. It's just bad guys shooting bad guys.

Missing from all of that was just one thing — the truth.

The truth that slipped out in an internal police memo obtained by The Courant and that painted a frightening picture of what's really going on with gangs in the city.

The truth that finally shows the extent of what we've been battling unsuccessfully for so long.

Consider some of the more alarming information in the memo prepared as background material for a federal grant application:

•4,000 gang members in the city associated with one of 138 city gangs.

•800 young people involved in some type of gang lifestyle.

•Middle school playgrounds with a "prison yard atmosphere." (And we wonder why kids aren't being educated in Hartford.)

•A city where so many people identify themselves as gang members that it qualifies as "gang infestation."

Linger on that insanity for a moment.

This is the kind of truth that should have sent Police Chief Daryl Roberts and Mayor Eddie Perez running to beg the state for more manpower, to set up some gang task force, to — at the very least — alert their residents.

But that would mean having to admit that they weren't doing everything they could to keep the city safe, that those curfews and home visits with some of the city's biggest troublemakers were jokes, that they had a far bigger problem on their hands than they were admitting.

And how would that make them look?

Just the other day, after a spate of killings that pushed the city's homicide rate to 30, two fewer than all of last year, there was Chief Roberts, once again attributing the violence to the economy, to incivility — to anything but the profound dangers lurking in the streets and the schoolyards.

"We can't be responsible for how human beings treat each other," Roberts said.

Maybe not, Chief. But it's absolutely your responsibility — your duty, actually — to tell your community the truth.

And yet here we are again; more denial, more deflection, more mush-mouthed nonsense about how the memo was largely about loosely knit groups that shouldn't really be called gang members.

"Ten guys on the block, let's all put on red jackets, and now we're a gang," came Roberts' dismissive characterization in a news story.

Yeah, that's how the Latin Kings and the Solidos got started — before they hijacked the city.

Here's the bottom line: If we don't have a problem, does that mean someone pumped up the numbers to help get some grant money? And if we do, why are we now trying to sweep it under the rug?

Even if just a fraction of what's in that report is true, we're in trouble — with deeply embedded violence, for sure.

But also with leadership that would rather play some public relations game than admit they may be in over their heads.

How can we ever solve the problem of violence in the city with this kind of chronic unwillingness to admit the depth and breadth of what we're up against?

We can't.

We won't.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
| Last update: September 25, 2012 |
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