Truth is, I was feeling pretty optimistic on my way to the second
of three meetings last week about the city's latest anti-gun
Sure, the first one - a press conference at city hall - was
a bit of a dog and pony show.
But it's not every day groups across the city get behind one
cause. And at the meeting I was headed to just a couple hours
later Thursday, the usual suspects were being joined by big guns
on the state and federal level.
If even half of the ideas people were throwing around actually
happened, I thought on the drive over to the Rajun Cajun restaurant,
this effort might actually have a shot.
I was just approaching a crowd on the sidewalk at Main and Belden
when I heard screeching tires behind me: A police cruiser had
jerked to a stop, missing my bumper by inches. The crowd turned
toward the noise as the cop jumped out and five other police
cars raced up, filling the street with cruisers parked at all
"Who wants to be the first one to suck it up?" the
cop yelled, shaking a canister of pepper spray toward the rapidly
And then he and the other
officers ran into a nearby house, ignoring the people asking, "What
are you looking for?"
It was hard to hear what the
cops were shouting when they were rushing into the house. As
they left, I heard Officer Pepper Spray tell a woman, "Hey,
11-year-olds have guns."
No one in the house had one,
she retorted. That didn't improve his temper. "Somebody gets killed, then somebody gets killed," he
yelled dismissively. And then the cops drove off.
They had come and gone in minutes. But the impression they left
on the street will last a long time.
"This is how they always are," one girl who told me
her name was Nadine said, watching the cops speed off. "They
come in here treating us like we're all garbage."
I didn't get the cops' names; they were moving too fast. And
to be honest, I didn't want to interrupt what was unfolding before
me. In those few moments, I was getting to see what residents
have told me about for years: Hartford's finest showing a total
disregard for the people they are paid to protect and serve.
The next day I called the police department looking for the
names of the officers on Belden Street so I could get their side
of the story. When police spokeswoman Nancy Mulroy finally got
back to me at the end of the day, she referred me to Deputy Chief
Daryl Roberts, who didn't return several calls.
I know what many of you must be thinking. I was thinking the
same thing: Maybe they were responding to a report of shots fired;
maybe they had reason to act the way they did. But the call came
from the nearby firehouse, reporting a group of kids who looked
like they were going to fight.
And while cops have to take control of a scene quickly, once
these officers did that, they blew the opportunity to talk to
people, to explain what they were doing, to connect in some way.
Instead, they took off and left everyone behind with a sour taste
in their mouths.
I thought about that as I sat in the meeting a little while
later listening to people talk about their ambitious plans to
get guns off the street. U.S. Attorney Kevin O'Connor talked
about the need to gather intelligence. Chief State's Attorney
Christopher Morano called the gathering a great opportunity.
And just about everyone talked about the need for the community
to get involved.
Law enforcement brass can talk about gathering intelligence,
but how much intelligence will these cops get with these cowboy
tactics? They can talk about collaboration, but how collaborative
is it for cops to act like bullies? And they can turn the finger
of accountability on residents, but they have to turn it on police
When talking about problems in cities, people inevitably get
to the broken windows theory: Signs of blight such as broken
windows going unrepaired lead to more broken windows and eventually
to an atmosphere where crime thrives.
Well, it's time to deal with something else that's broken -
trust. That one's not a theory, though: If cops continue to treat
people the way they did on Belden Street, not even the best violence
prevention effort stands a chance.
Helen Ubiñas' column
appears Thursdays and Sundays. She can be reached at Ubinas@courant.com.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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