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Hasty Posturing

By Chris Powell

June 16, 2008

For 40 years Connecticut’s political, academic, and business leaders have been holding conferences about the decline of Hartford and the state’s other cities. Meanwhile state government has built up huge social-service and criminal-justice bureaucracies with the best salaries and benefits, only for the cities to continue to deteriorate, Hartford worst of all.

Now two crimes in Hartford within a few days of each other have become sensational. One was the savage beating and robbery of former Deputy Mayor Nicholas Carbone by three thugs as he walked to breakfast a few blocks from the state Capitol. The other was the running down of Angel Torres on Park Street by two cars that were racing in the wrong lane and sped off, an atrocity compounded by the abandonment of the victim by people who drove around him or walked past him or, from the sidewalk, just watched him as he lay in the street, without coming to his aid, the horror and disgrace videotaped by a security camera.

But except for Carbone’s renown and the videotape of Torres, the crimes would have been just part of another ordinary week in Hartford, which included the usual shootings, two of them fatal. For even the city’s own daily newspaper, pursuing idiot boosterism, long has been suppressing evidence of the depravity and squalor.

Departing momentarily from boosterism, Hartford’s police chief, Daryl Roberts, did some hand wringing at a press conference, wondering aloud whether the city had lost its “moral compass.” Gov. M. Jodi Rell and Mayor Eddie Perez announced that such crimes will not be tolerated. The governor also proclaimed state rewards of $10,000 in regard to the hit-and-run in Hartford and another one in New Haven, and renewed her offer to Mayor Perez to send state troopers to help police Hartford and to undertake “warrant sweeps” to apprehend the hundreds of city residents who have skipped out on the criminal charges against them. It all was only hasty posturing.

For what sort of “moral compass” can be expected where, as in Hartford, with the full knowledge of the authorities, not even one child in three grows up in a home with two parents and where such child neglect is aggressively subsidized by the government with housing, food, and medical insurance?

And while any increase in police coverage in Hartford would be welcome, probably a quarter of the city’s residents are already in trouble with the law in some way and could use their own cop, prison guard, and probation officer. Indeed, Hartford long has been — again, with the full knowledge of the authorities — a sort of prison without walls, substituting for the prison Connecticut would need to build to protect itself adequately against the city’s thousands of fatherless and incorrigible young men, the sort who probably mugged Carbone and ran down Torres.

State government long has had reason to know that Hartford, having lost most of its middle class, is not even capable of self-government anymore. A few years ago state government took control of the city’s school system for a time. Then the state created an agency to handle downtown Hartford redevelopment because the city could not be trusted with anything serious.

While it is shaking its head at Hartford again, the rest of the state long has been as indifferent to the city as those who drove around Torres as he lay in the street. The billions of dollars appropriated by the state in the city’s name over the last 40 years — to equalize school financing, to integrate schools, to redevelop downtown, and to fund social programs — have only enriched public employees and contractors. Measures of social conditions in the city have seldom shown improvement, and seldom have been consulted.

Nothing the state has done has had any bearing on the city’s poverty and its cause, fatherlessness and child neglect. The government cannot police everyone; people have to know how to behave.

In its last session, the General Assembly at last may have caught a hint of this as it considered a bill to undertake a study of the connections between fatherlessness and public policy. But the bill failed from inaction in the House. So the question isn’t whether any “moral compass” can be found among the people of Hartford. The question is whether any “moral compass” can be found at the Capitol or anywhere else in Connecticut.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Business Journal. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Business Journal Archives at http://www.hartfordbusiness.com/archives.php.
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