Cleveland Avenue Copes With City's Latest Shooting
June 7, 2006
By STAN SIMPSON, Courant Staff Writer
I counted 15 African American and Latino boys walking single file down Albany Avenue in Hartford, past Vine and Magnolia streets.
They had attended a community rally Monday afternoon on The Ave.
Some sported T-shirts and droopy jeans, others wore their baseball caps backward and with a tilt, a few hairstyles were in fashionable braids. The young guys were walking purposefully, occasionally stopping people on the sidewalk.
The message on the fliers they handed out: "Stop Killing."
Appearances can be deceiving. These bright kids, ages 12 to 15, are students at the city's Quirk Middle School. They were participating in an after-school leadership program supervised by youth advocate Kelvin Lovejoy, who oversees the Hartford Youth Empowerment program. When I asked how many had been to funerals in the past 18 months, half of them raised their hands. The 19 shootings in the city since May 24, most in north Hartford, were on their minds. They also recognize that society will take one look at their attire, their environment and, with the recent rash of shootings, make the worst kinds of assumptions.
Here's the most accurate presumption you can make about most of these city kids: Despite the swagger, they are scared to death. They don't want to be gunned down next - or see a relative take a wayward bullet.
"It bothers everybody," said Dante Felix, 14. "It's scary because what happens if one of them will be one of our family. I don't want to be burying people." Evin Matted, 13, noted how more of his peers are resorting to weapons, rather than words, to settle disputes. "People got to settle their beefs by speaking, instead of taking out their gun and shooting people," he said. "They should stop all this senseless stuff because it's not worth it. Too many lives are being taken."
In recent days, we've seen a show of force from both the police and the community. Whether either will have any staying power is doubtful.
A three-pronged strategy, however, to countering violence is taking shape:
The cops have to do a better job policing the community.
The community has to do a better job policing itself.
Young people have to reconsider the term "snitch" and decide whether ratting someone out who is packin' a pistol is the act of a "sellout" or a responsible citizen.
Lakeitha Ingram, 25, made it plain how she feels about people cooperating with police. "There's nothing wrong in doing the right thing," she told the throng at Monday's rally. "There's no `code of honor' when you're missing a brother, when you're missing a cousin."
Ingram is the older sister of Kerry Foster Jr., 15, who was gunned down in his own yard on Clark Street on Memorial Day weekend. KJ, whose father is a Hartford firefighter, was described as a good kid, who grew up in a stable home.
"What people don't realize is my nephew was shot at home, in front of his house, with no shoes on," said his aunt, Kimberly Foster. "He was where he was supposed to be. If you're not safe at home ..."
Admittedly still bitter about the loss of KJ, Foster offers a "quick solution" to Hartford's crime outbreak - one that puts the onus on parents.
"If your kid is out there not doing what they're supposed to do, and you're not on the record as asking for help, then you need to go to jail," she said.
Extreme? Certainly. But we're dealing with a crisis here.
Maybe it is the parents who should be put away. Maybe then, they'll get the message.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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