Governor Dannel Malloy, Mayor Pedro Segarra and Hartford Police Chief James Rovella all attended a public forum on the city’s continuing violence Tuesday morning, but Javar Preston was probably the man on most people’s minds as they walked into the meeting at the Kelvin Anderson Center.
At approximately 7:30 pm on Monday night – less than 15 hours before Tuesday morning’s meeting – Preston had been gunned down near the intersection of Blue Hills Avenue and West Euclid Street. He became the city’s seventh homicide victim this year. Preston’s murder is currently under investigation. Anyone with information on the shooting is asked to call Major Crimes Division, Lt. Brian Foley at 860-757-4463 or Hartford Crime Stoppers at 860-722-8477.
Preston’s death set a somber tone for the meeting. Hartford State's Attorney Gail Hardy said, “We’re all trying to do more but clearly we have a long way to go.” Malloy echoed her thoughts, saying, “We [the State of Connecticut] are doing something, but it’s not enough.”
Malloy said he is no stranger to urban violence, having served as a prosecutor in New York City in the early 1980s and later as mayor of Stamford for 14 years. He went on to say that much of the crime in violence in Hartford and other Connecticut cities is driven by a sense of hopelessness among certain members of the community. “I am doing all I can to end hopelessness in Connecticut,” he said, “primarily through educational reform.”
Malloy said low high school graduation rates are a sure indicator of high crime rates in the future. He also said it is very important for the community, particularly its churches, to reach out to youths to prevent them from committing their first crime. “Once a person has that first conviction, it means that they will probably be unemployed for a large portion of their life. We’re working to prevent that first conviction,” Malloy said.
A?Deerfield Street resident whose daughter and niece were both murdered agreed with Malloy that a conviction can be a major stumbling block for someone who want to live a productive life. “My son made one mistake, one. And he’s still paying for it 12 years later. All he wants to do is work, and he can’t find a job,” he said. “When someone completes their prison sentence, we say ‘they’ve paid their debt to society.’ So if they’ve paid their debt to society, why don’t they get a clean bill of health?”
One city resident who spoke at the meeting said, “Hartford doesn’t lack community supports. But the people who go to those programs aren’t the kids at risk. We’re walking by the real issue, the guy who hanging out on the corner...we have to flood the neighborhood with police. We have to make things as uncomfortable for the criminals as they are making it uncomfortable for us.”
Anti-violence activist Henry Brown agreed about the need for an increased police presence. “When are we going to get a sub-station in the North End? And why aren’t police targetting the people from the suburbs who are coming into our city to buy drugs?” he asked.
Andrew Woods of Hartford Communities That Care said that the City of Hartford has invested in some programs that have paid off in terms of reducing violence among youths. In 2007, he said, there were 31 homicides among people under 18. In 2011, there was only one. Dealing with people 18 and older, however, “Is a whole different ballgame,” said Woods. He recommended that the city continue investigating the possibility of setting up “violence-free zones” in Hartford, a program that has proven successful in other urban areas.
Brian Fothergill, who works with young offenders in the state’s prison system, said Hartford needs a program “that allows people to talk [to the police] and not be afraid about what’s going to happen to them...This campaign against snitches is the worst thing that ever happened to our community.”