Police chief says last week's fighting may be gang related
By Jeff Cohen
September 16, 2010
Eleven Hartford students were arrested last week following a high school fight. But police say this wasn’t a regular brawl. It was pre-arranged by students from various city schools – and they spread the word by text message. And as WNPR's Jeff Cohen reports, police say the possibly gang-related event converged on the heart of downtown.
CLARIFICATION: Hartford police initially said eleven students were arrested. They have corrected that number and now say five were arrested.
The action on Main and Asylum Streets was caught on video and posted on YouTube. Kids punching kids, some in school uniforms, some in matching bright-red caps, and others recording it all on their cell phones.
Danny Boyd manages Harvey and Lewis Opticians just down the block. He was working last Friday when it all began.
“Well, as I went outside to see what was going on, I looked up the street and there was a couple of kids fighting and a big group of kids that were basically sitting on cars and stopping traffic and people were beeping horns. They totally stopped up Asylum Street. It didn’t look good for Hartford, I’ll tell you that."
Sam Rayashi manages Smokers Depot, a few storefronts closer to the scene.
“That’s the second time it happened this year. I lost so much business from the fight because I closed the store myself because I was worried about my safety, you know?”
Cohen: You closed the door...
Rayashi: Yes, I did.
Cohen: Locked it?
Rayashi: Yes, I did. Hopefully it’s not going to happen, you know, again.
Candy Valente was at her store, AJ’s Newstand, just across the street.
“I actually had customers inside the store that were afraid to leave to go back to their jobs. They had Main Street blocked. Traffic was stopped. It’s hard enough to have a business downtown, then to have actual customers afraid to leave, to go back to their jobs, which means they’re not going to want to come out on their breaks to come over here.”
“When things like this happen, it’s a concern anywhere. When it happens on the corner of Main and Asylum in the central business district, it's...the concern is elevated.”
That’s Mike Zaleski, executive director of the downtown Business Improvement District.
“There’s a lot of people that are working very hard to improve the economic state of downtown Hartford and this in no way helps with that work.”
Schools Superintendent Steven Adamowski would not be interviewed for this story. But his office did provide some details in an e-mail. The schools say that there was first trouble on the day after Labor Day, when a fight broke out between students from High School Inc. – Hartford's Insurance and Finance Academy – at the nearby downtown Burger King. One student was arrested, and five were suspended. They’ve all been recommended for expulsion.
Then, three days later, the schools say an incident broke out in the same area – the corner of Main and Asylum Streets where students catch the bus at the end of the school day. From YouTube videos posted online, the principal of High School Inc. identified two students involved and suspended them. Administrators from other schools are looking at the tape.
Police Chief Daryl Roberts says Friday's incident involved students from various city high schools, and it all began with text messages.
“So they say, look, we’re going to be in front of Burger King in ten minutes, there’s going to be a fight up there, all these kids come like it’s an event. They text two people, and it spreads like wildfire. Now you’ve got 50 kids gathering on one corner, and then someone throws a punch, and guess what? The mob mentality. People start swinging. The crowd starts moving. And then you’ve got like a mob scene.”
And despite the fact that school superintendent Adamowski has long played down the existence of gangs in city schools, Roberts says otherwise. These aren’t gangs like the drug-dealing, gun-shooting gangs that have plagued the city’s North End. Roberts says these are loosely affiliated groups of kids who hang together. His fear is that these low-level gangs could escalate into something bigger.
“Some group called Coke Wave, another called Strikers, another called the Taylor gang. We believe there’s some gang affiliation. Now, how much? We don’t know.”
Since last week, police have since stepped up their presence. Two cruisers and four officers have been stationed on the downtown street corner, hoping to ensure that students making their way to the bus stop just go home after school.