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'Cripville' Means Pride, Fear

May 15, 2005

It began over a dozen years ago with a group of teens from the Stowe Village housing project who named their football team Crookville in a nod to the players' trouble with the law and the complex's local nickname, "the Ville.''

Today, teens with Stowe Village roots who have co-opted the team's name -- and morphed it into "Cripville'' -- have been implicated in two homicides in Hartford's North End. When a 20-year-old man was killed May 6 while standing in the driveway of a family on Branford Street, the family was quickly moved into the state's witness protection program. The head of the family, John Weaver, and police say the family was targeted because Weaver's sons have agreed to testify against two teens with Cripville ties who have been accused of murdering a 15-year-old honor student on the same street in February.

But if youths associated with Cripville have ventured into violence, it's not because the former team has evolved into a full-fledged gang, according to city police, community leaders and those with direct ties to the old Crookville team.

"It ain't like they're doing this because someone ordered them to,'' said Raymond Hardy, better known as "Bookman,'' a popular North End barber who helped rename the team to Crookville when he lived at Stowe Village.

The "crook'' in the name refers to the trouble many of the football players found themselves in after breaking the law, said Hardy, a former leader in the 20 Love gang. "We were crooks,'' he said.

"Crookville is all about the pride we had in being from the Ville. It ain't a gang,'' Hardy said.

The name inspires nostalgia for the now defunct Stowe Village, he said, despite the reputation the complex had as a hotbed of poverty and crime.

"You got a lot of memories from the Ville,'' Hardy said wistfully, reflecting on the fun he and his friends had competing against football teams from other city housing projects.

In time, he said, people who lived in Stowe Village or surrounding neighborhoods began to identify themselves with the team, so much so that many people still have their old Crookville football shirts.

With both the old football team and the housing project now gone, the name has come to represent Stowe Village but as it's been passed along, it's become known as Cripville among the young people. Eric Crawford, the school district's violence prevention specialist, said he thinks teens assume the name is a reference to the Crips, the famous California-based gang. Those who work with young people in the city say that there is no connection to the Crips and that the gang doesn't have a presence in Hartford.

Hartford Assistant Police Chief Mark R. Pawlina agreed that Cripville does not function as a gang, but more like a loose confederation of people with common roots. He said it's become common for people from different neighborhoods in the city to identify themselves in terms of where they live.

"Some of these kids who call themselves Cripville never even lived in Stowe Village, but their parents did, so that's the identity they take for themselves,'' Pawlina said. "If a Cripville kid does something violent or illegal, it's probably not because they're from [the football team.] They just happen to have Cripville roots.''

Aaron "Pop'' Lewis, the founder and director of Youth on Youth, Each One Teach One Inc., who travels around the country lecturing on gangs and their signs, said old-style gangs no longer exist in Hartford.

"The new generation is using the word `crew.' It's a group of friends. It's cats that grew up on the same block or the same 'hood. They don't have any special attire to identify them, but they have nicknames that refer to what they do best,'' he said. "The nicknames follow them to the grave and if they have a son, the son will be called by the nickname with `little' in front of it until he has a son.''

Occasionally, these alliances of friends erupt into violent turf battles. For example, a feud between a group of youths calling themselves "The Ave'' for Albany Avenue and a group from the Nelton Court housing project in north Hartford were implicated in January in at least nine shootings and four stabbings. That feud -- which is distinct from the feud over a girl that has erupted on Branford Street -- started over a stolen bicycle, police have said.

When Stowe Village was torn down in 1998, Pawlina said, its residents were scattered across the city, making it possible to find Cripville loyalists anywhere. Graffiti in schools throughout the city have referred to Cripville and CNN -- Cripville Nelton Court -- for years, though Crawford said Cripville members have never emerged as a force in the schools.

Some youths formed affiliations with those in their new neighborhoods, Hardy said. "If I moved to Dutch Point, I would get in fights with kids there but then I'd make friends there and I'd be down with Dutch Point.''

But many youths retained their old ties with each other through the Cripville moniker, said Carl Hardrick, a longtime community activist who regularly works with young people to prevent feuds from erupting into violence.

"They tried to keep their identity,'' Crawford said. "It's the culture. Everybody's got to be associated with something.''

Hardy said the shootings and homicides recently linked to Cripville on Branford Street in the city's Blue Hills section appear to be more the result of a beef involving young people who were still toddlers when Stowe Village was dismantled but still consider themselves part of the Cripville family.

But if police and others don't consider Cripville to be a gang under the classic definition, complete with an organized hierarchy, initiation rites and identifiable colors and territories, the name is still inspiring fear among some families on Branford Street, which has become the focus of a teenage feud run amok.

Police believe the feud began earlier this year when two young men with ties to Cripville -- Anthony "Little Ant'' Allen and Kevin "Maduke'' Amos -- took offense at something one of Weaver's sons had said to a girl they liked. Vowing revenge, the two allegedly approached Weaver's son as he was walking with a group of friends on Branford Street in February, and opened fire, police believe.

But instead of hitting Weaver's son, a bullet struck and killed Lorenzo Morgan Rowe, an honor student at Weaver High School. When Allen and Amos were arrested in connection with the slaying, Weaver's son, along with the rest of his family, became the targets of intimidation on the part of the suspects' friends, police said.

The intimidation campaign reached a peak May 6 when a friend of Weaver's sons, Robert Banks, 20, of East Windsor, was shot and killed while hanging out in the family's driveway, which is across the street from the house where Rowe lived. Weaver and police believe it was friends of Amos and Allen who walked up to the driveway and fired the shots that killed Banks and injured a cousin of Banks. No arrests have been made.

In the days after the killing, police stationed a cruiser in front of Weaver's home around the clock, until the family was placed in the protection program Tuesday night. Before being whisked away, Weaver said that his sons still intend to testify against Allen and Amos.

"We're not going to be intimidated by Cripville,'' he said. "We're going to do the right thing.''

One Hartford teenager leaving Banks' wake Friday night in Windsor said he and his friends know about the Cripville group and similar groups such as "The Ave'' and "CNN.'' He said he's not afraid of them because he's not involved in their affairs. Nonetheless, he would not give his name.

"They're a bunch of young kids acting stupid, thinking they're tough when they're not," said a slightly older man, who also would not give his name, as he and the teenager left the wake.

Both Hardrick and Hardy said that the lack of direction that the city's children have is largely to blame for their time hanging out on the streets and getting in trouble.

"I hate what's going on around here,'' Hardy said.

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