A Chicago epidemiologist is treating gun violence like an infectious disease — using his nonprofit as an intervener when street conflicts occur.
Like the doctor from the Windy City, James Lane is among a growing number of local ministers who believe that redirecting participants to nonviolent alternatives is the right elixir to combat gun violence in Hartford.
"The only way that you're going to begin to address this issue is to begin to address the moral reasoning of younger kids because they're going to be replacing these other guys once we get them off the streets," said Lane, pastor of the North End Church of Christ in Hartford and acting director of the North Hartford Strategic Network.
Lane was among a small group of ministers who met with the governor's office this week to encourage Gov. M. Jodi Rell to convene a summit on gun violence in the cities. There have been 188 gun-related incidents in Hartford in the past two months, including 50 shooting victims — a 64 percent increase from last year.
"We think the governor should be involved in at least showing that there's a sense of caring for what's happening in the capital," Lane said. "There's been a response to [the multiple slaying in] Cheshire, there has been a response to suburban kids with cars getting into accidents ..."
The Hartford Police Department's "safe city initiative" is its latest effort to quell street crime — more cops and more foot, bike and horse patrols. You've heard it before. By the end of the year, 80 new cops will be on the streets, swelling the ranks to about 460.
Truth is, you can hire a small army to patrol the hot-spot neighborhoods, but there has to be a change in the mentality of the young men who fashion themselves as street toughs and choose to shoot at the first sign of disrespect.
Hiring more cops for a city that covers only 18 square miles and claims that violent crimes are on the decline has always been a suspect investment. In many cases, it's the same band of incorrigibles committing most of the crimes in a few neighborhoods.
Gary Slutkin is a doctor whose forte is the study of diseases. His Chicago-based CeaseFire organization was recently profiled in The New York Times Magazine.
CeaseFire works with the community, religious leaders and government to reduce violence by using outreach workers to identify conflicts before they become dangerous. Violence intervention programs are then developed.
Hartford Police Lt. Emory Hightower said he read about a different program in Boston and Cincinnati that also has merit. The police in those cities brought together about 50 of their most persistent troublemakers. Job programs and work opportunities were then presented. The cops then made it clear that if the offenders continue to pursue crimes, "the system is going crush you," Hightower said. "It's the stick-and-carrot approach."
One problem rarely addressed in urban areas is the lack of adult men at home. In Hartford, almost 70 percent of households with children are headed by single parents.
"One of the things we really have to focus on is the establishment of families," said Malik Ramiz, a Hartford native who runs the Positive Young Brothers Mentoring Program in New Haven and New Britain. "I'm not saying a man and woman have to stay together, but a man definitely has to be involved in his children's lives."
When the man is MIA, young boys can develop a warped view of masculinity. Too many times, that involves packing a pistol.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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