August 14, 2005
By RITU KALRA, Courant Staff Writer
A dozen children playing basketball on the street. Parents
and grandparents watching from the shade of their front porches.
Neighbors standing in line on the sidewalk for barbecued hot
dogs. A makeshift stage in the middle of the block, blasting
music through the neighborhood.
Except for the six police officers standing in full uniform
flipping burgers behind the grill, the scene had the makings
of any other summer block party.
But on the section of Martin Street between Judson and Nelson
streets in Hartford's North End, Saturday's daylong festivities
were not the normal summer ritual. Sponsored jointly by community
leaders and the Hartford police, the outdoor block party was
both a celebration and a prayer.
"Everybody on Martin Street is not selling drugs," said
the Rev. Donald Johnson, director of the HOPE Street Ministries
anti-violence group, which helped sponsor the event. "Everybody
on Martin Street is not carrying guns. There are some good things
that come out of Martin Street. When this street belongs to everybody,
that's what's going to restore this community."
Johnson's ministry began in 2001 after a spate of violence prompted
him and two colleagues to begin preaching from the sidewalk with
a megaphone. When the Johnson-Stewart Community Center opened
on the street last year, the ministry moved in.
After several shootings in Hartford this year, city police launched
an initiative to increase police presence in troubled neighborhoods.
That, coupled with the work of the community center, has not
eliminated crime, but has fostered a greater sense of calm among
"The kids were just out here fighting last night," said
Crystal Hampton, a Martin Street resident of 10 years. "But
since the police have been here, the shooting has cut down a
"I'm just happy the police are out here now. Otherwise
you're scared to walk outside," Hampton said as she waited
for her 9-year-old stepson to bring her a hamburger.
For Deputy Police Chief Daryl K. Roberts, the neighborhood patrols
have played a vital role in building trust between police and
"If we patrol Martin Street, [the criminals] move two blocks
over. They relocate. But now the mothers will call us when their
kids have been out all night long. They wouldn't call before," Roberts
said. "People feel more comfortable with us now."
Indeed, residents called to him by name throughout the afternoon
and there were few whose first names he didn't know.
"My mother raised eight boys by herself. I'm a product
of this very environment," Roberts said as he reached out
to hug or shake hands with residents. "I try to be a role
model. We're here on a Saturday, we're cooking burgers. When
people see us today, they see us as human beings. That's what
community policing is all about," he said.
In the weeks since the initiative began, the number of shootings
in the North End has dropped by nearly 80 percent, according
to a recent Hartford police report.
David Milner, who lives in the neighborhood, said he has noticed
a difference, not only in the frequency of shootings, but in
the caliber of the guns.
"You can tell a high-caliber shot by the way it echoes.
You can tell the semi-automatics," Milner said. "Now
there's a lot less fireworks going on. So they're definitely
getting the most dangerous firearms off the street."
Still, turning the community around will take time. People no
longer tear through the neighborhood at 80 mph, some mothers
said Saturday, but children still sell drugs on the street late
Others said they were grateful the situation had improved, but
were afraid the police presence would not be sustained. And while
they were glad to know the sergeants and the deputies by name,
they said it was the officers who walk the streets with whom
they still need to develop relationships.
"The beat cop is a great idea. But it helps if the faces
we see become familiar. Not the uniform. We need the faces. The
uniform presence is good but we need to know them by name if
it's going to really change this neighborhood," Milner said.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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