March 26, 2006
By Helen Ubiñas, Courant Staff Writer
The shouted words rose from a cluster
kof young mourners in front of Mount Memorial Baptist Chruch last
week. Inside, the minister counseled them to learn something from
the shooting death of 17-year-old Heriberto Carrasquillo Jr.
Outside, groups of kids milled around
their matching black and white clothing, "West Hell" stenciled
on sleeves and jackets and pant legs, talking about the good dying
young, about respect and, when they thought no one could hear, about
If it wasn't clear enough with all
the shooting and violence and chaos in the city this last year,
it was evident at the funeral:
We are in trouble.
It wasn't as though we couldn't see
this coming. It was right in front of us at 14-year-old Reynaldo
Batista's funeral last March. Folks denied it then, said it was
just groups of kids hanging out - all of whom apparently liked to
dress in the same colors. City and police officials said they were
on it. No worries.
And definitely, they insisted, no gangs.
Spare me. There are groups like this
all over the city - some larger than others, some more violent.
Their clashes don't always end in death, but they always cause disruption.
Two weeks ago, tensions between rival groups at a middle school
- that's right, a middle school - caused a melee that stopped traffic.
The school incidentally boasts an in-house
Something's not working. Actually,
nothing is working. Otherwise these groups wouldn't feel so free
to put their allegiances on display, to flash their colors at cops,
community types, anyone who has deluded themselves into thinking
that we've got a hande on this situation.
Because let's be clear - we don't.
And there is a reason.
"These kids don't fit the trafgjditional
mold," said Sgt.Emory Hightower.
For starters, these groups aren't organized
the way the gangs of the '80s and '90s were. When Iran Nazario was
an active member of Los Solidos there was a clear hierarchy. Not
that the old gangs weren't lethal - but there were leaders to watch,
to lean on, to put in jail.
There is some leadership now, but kids
are more like free agents. They claim allegiance, but they also
aren't beyond turning on one another. Alliances dog you, even when
you move. Shantel Williams moved her daughters, who were part of
the Fox Middle School melee, out of Nelton Court and into an apartment
near Albany Avenue four years ago. Now no one claims them - the
Ave considers them representatives of Nelton Court, Nelton Court
considers them part of the Ave. Williams wants to move out of Hartford.
And more troubling, these kids are
younger - as young as 10, by some accounts. What exactly do you
do with a 10-year-old gang-banger? Put them into a juvenile justice
system that's already beyond capacity?
Fact is, we'd be in much better shape
if these kids were mimicking the old gangs, which explains the nostalgic
ways some folks insist on dealing with them.
But this is a new breed, and the longer
we deny that, the more trouble we're going to be in.
"What God is doing is trying to
get your attention," the Rev.Curley Ross told the young mourners
Well let's hope God accomplished that.
But right now, it's these young people who should have everyone's
attention. Their message is certainly clear - in their colors, in
their clashes, in the words from the mourner's mouth.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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