The crowd of mourners gathered
at Mount Calvary Baptist Church in Hartford Friday fell into a
momentary hush when Police Chief Patrick J. Harnett leaned over the
front pew and hugged the father of Jashon Bryant, the 18-year-old
man who was shot and killed last week by one of Harnett's officers.
Bryant's father, Keith Thomas, accepted the hug and exchanged a
few civil words with Harnett before the chief continued making his
way in a line of hundreds passing Bryant's coffin at his funeral.
Afterward, Thomas said he appreciated the appearance by Harnett
and Assistant Chief Darryl Roberts, which Thomas said came at his
invitation. Thomas said that while he believes the shooting of his
son was unjustified, he wanted to send a message that he did not
want his son's death to be used as a reason to create further division
in the community.
``Jashon should not have died the way he did, and I will do everything
I can to make sure we have justice, but I don't want there to be
any more violence,'' he said. ``I'm a big enough man to welcome the
But an overwhelming sense among the crowd that Bryant was needlessly
killed May 7 erupted later in the ceremony, when the Rev. Richard
L. Nash told the crowd that healing cannot begin until the police
do more to show they are committed to working as partners with residents.
``I mean no disrespect,'' Nash said, staring at Harnett in the congregation.
``But we all know there are phony police out there, crooked police
out there, police on the take out there. It's got to stop!''
With that, the crowd stood on its feet and roared, a reaction that
many said underscored the rift that has long existed between the
police department and the largely African-American community in the
city's North End, where Bryant was killed.
Earlier, as mourners were filing in, some of those who were close
to Bryant gave way to wailing and loud sobs. One woman, who had to
be helped out of the church, shouted, ``They murdered him! They're
supposed to protect us, but they're murdering us!''
Harnett was not available to comment after the funeral.
Bryant, who was Thomas' only son, was killed when he and a friend,
21-year-old Brandon Henry, were approached by a Hartford police officer
and a federal agent who were working as part of a new anti-gun task
The two officers suspected Bryant of carrying a gun into a car parked
outside a North Main Street convenience store. The Hartford officer,
Robert Lawlor, told investigators that he fired at the two men after
Henry put the car in gear and began driving toward his partner, who
was in front of the vehicle. Lawlor also said he saw Bryant reachingfor
a gun at his feet, prompting him to fire four or five shots at Bryant.
Bryant was shot in the back of the head, killing him almost instantly;
Henry was shot once in the chest. Henry was able to continue driving
until he crashed into another car three blocks away at the corner
of Clark and Nelson streets, where he got out and ran. He was found
several minutes later hiding under a porch.
Henry, who is out on bond on charges of possession of narcotics,
evading responsibility, driving with a suspended license and interfering
with police, attended Bryant's funeral.
He also joined a crowd of several dozen mourners after the funeral
who marched from the church to the parking lot where Bryant was killed.
Though Henry declined to discuss specifics of the incident, he told
those at the rally that he and Bryant were not a threat to the officers.
``This was uncalled for,'' he said through tears. ``It didn't need
to go down like this.''
Friends who have discussed the incident with Henry and asked not
to be identified, said Henry told them he and Bryant did not recognize
the officers as police because they were wearing plainclothes, and
the young men feared they were about to be robbed.
Friends of the two men said Henry told them that once he and Bryant
realized the men were police officers, they complied with the orders
to hold their hands up, adding that he only put the car in gear and
drove off after Lawlor opened fire, the friends said.
Henry has consistently denied Lawlor's contention that Bryant was
carrying a gun, and police have not found a gun despite hours of
At the rally Friday, the crowd broke into a chant of ``There was
Some of Bryant's friends who spoke at the funeral later decried
efforts by community leaders such as the Rev. Cornell Lewis, who
organized the rally, to commemorate Bryant, saying Lewis and other
leaders never knew him.
``You never did nothin' for my boy,'' 18-year-old Alex Rodriguez,
a longtime friend of Bryant's, told Lewis when Lewis invited him
to speak to the crowd at the rally. Referring to Lewis' well-publicized
efforts to hold rallies on street corners in an effort to discourage
drug dealing, Rodriguez said, ``All you ever did was force us off
the corner,'' and then walked away.
Many people at the rally echoed Nash's claim that police don't do
enough to gain the community's trust.
One 20-year-old man, who would identify himself by only his first
name, Chris, said he has never had a friendly conversation with officers
patrolling his neighborhoods.
``You would think at least one time, one of them would get out of
their cruisers and maybe try to talk to us sometime, but that never
happens,'' he said. ``To them, we're all criminals.'
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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