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Battling Back On Park Street

“Our community has been judged by 45 seconds of tape.”


June 12, 2008

It is the street that gave the world a view of Hartford as a city gone wild, where out-of-control motorists can blindside an elderly pedestrian in broad daylight while onlookers stand by and watch callously.

But Julio Mendoza says the image of Park Street that has been replayed countless times on televi­sion news shows and over the Internet during the past week doesn't represent the street he has worked to improve for more than a decade.

Mendoza knows Park Street as the center of the city's Latino life. It has a thriving retail district with new facades, sidewalks and curbs. Hoped for, if stalled, plans are in the works for a multi-mil­lion-dollar pair of residential towers -- right where 78-year-old Angel Arce Torres was hit and paralyzed last week.

Drugs and crime do persist. That's why Mendoza and the Spanish American Merchants As­sociation that he runs were gear­ing up to announce this summer the operation of nearly three doz­en video cameras high atop light posts, intended to deter crime and make visitors feel safe.

But he fears that the video's first attention-grabbing release, the one that shows people staying away from the injured Arce Torres and cars driving past him, may have done just the opposite.

"Our community has been judged by 45 seconds of tape, or a minute of tape, by four people that were standing there that no­body knows how they felt," said Mendoza, a friend of both Arce Torres and his son, Angel Arce.

"If the same thing was to happen in other parts of the city or other parts of the suburbs, they wouldn't say ? 'That community is a bad community,' " Mendoza said. "When these unfortunate things have happened at col­leges, they don't blame the community itself. They blame the individuals that did it."

"And that's the way it's supposed to be," he said.

Arce Torres remains para­lyzed from the neck down following the May 30 hit-and-­run that occurred as he walked across Park Street af­ter buying some milk. His family learned this week that he would never breathe again without a respirator and would never return home.

When he released the video, Hartford Police Chief Daryl K. Roberts said the crime, like the June 2 mugging of former Deputy Mayor Nicholas Car­bone, illustrated what he called was the city's "toxic relationship" with itself.

The apparent image of un­caring Park Street, and the ensuing national furor, prompted Mayor Eddie A. Pe­rez to stress Wednesday that "Hartford is a city of commit­ment and compassion."

Standing on the front steps of city hall, joined by police, community, business, and civic leaders, Perez said, "We as a community are out­raged," and asked the commu­nity to turn that outrage into action.

He and police officials re­leased some fresh details about their investigations into the two incidents.

In the Carbone case, Perez said that police had found Carbone's wallet, his glasses, and a blunt object. He offered no further details. Roberts had earlier indicated some evi­dence in the crime had been sent off for forensic analysis.

In the Arce Torres case, Assistant Police Chief Neil Dryfe said that video shot from a different security cam­era and witness accounts have led investigators to believe they are looking for a His­panic man, 20 to 28, with dark hair. As for the car involved in the incident, Dryfe said police think it was a late-1980s or early-1990s, dark-colored Honda Accord or similar vehi­cle, Nissan Sentra or Toyota Corolla.

The four-door car is pos­sibly maroon, and may have aftermarket wheels and an aftermarket cover on its head­lights. The car may also be missing its hubcaps, Dryfe said.

No description was offered for a second vehicle that was involved in the incident with Arce Torres.

The state has offered a $10,000 reward for informa­tion leading to the arrest and conviction of those respon­sible for the hit-and-run.

Maritza Estrada says she has seen Park Street's compas­sion firsthand.

She cleans and tends the bar at El Bohio, a Park Street restaurant where Arce Torres -- known as Ponce -- was at home. He'd help open up most mornings and play dominoes there. It was from there that he'd give people who asked rides to a North End methadone clinic, and it was there that he'd collect cans for the woman who needed money next door.

"I have seen how the people help here," she said in Spanish. "They help," she said.

"It's not fair to say that people didn't care what happened to Ponce."

Former mayoral candidate and current state Rep. Minnie Gonzalez says her Frog Hollow community has gotten a bad rap for the type of incident that could have happened any­where. It just happened in her community's cultural heart.

"People ask me, 'What's go­ing on on Park Street?' " Gon­zalez said. "And I'm saying, 'What's happening on Park Street could have happened somewhere else.' " First-term city Councilman Luis Cotto said he felt person­ally betrayed by the incident and the aftermath because this is home, it's his people, and he knows them as caring.

Still, Cotto finds himself hav­ing to defend his city and his community, he said. "Do we judge the United States based on how we treated Katrina victims?" he asked. "This is an anomaly. Unfortunately, it hit really close to home with the Latino and Puerto Rican com­munity."

"Perception and stereotypes are set by small little things like this and the damage is done," he said.

A fund has been set up to help Arce Torres' family. Checks can be sent to the Angel A. Torres Relief Fund, Webster Bank, 108 Farmington Ave., Hartford, CT 06105.

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.
| Last update: September 25, 2012 |
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