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Mother Killed; City Adds Patrols

Mayor, Police Chief Mount New Assault On Gun Violence

June 23, 2005
By MATT BURGARD, Courant Staff Writer

Standing next to the spot where a young mother was gunned down while carrying a bottle of milk for her baby, Hartford's mayor and police chief Wednesday vowed to "redouble" their efforts to crack down on the city's escalating gun violence, which so far this year has claimed the lives of 10 people and wounded dozens more.

The killing of Dante Davis, 21, shot by an unknown gunman while apparently hugging her boyfriend in front of their apartment building late Tuesday, left many residents in her Martin Street neighborhood outraged and desperate for an end to gun violence. Davis was the second person shot to death on her block in two months.

Davis' death also prompted Mayor Eddie Perez and Police Chief Patrick Harnett to hasten the announcement of a new initiative against gun violence. The initiative, which began immediately Wednesday with the introduction of foot and bicycle patrols on problem streets, will focus on the three North End neighborhoods that have endured the highest rate of shootings and gun slayings this year.

Harnett, who completed his first year on the job on Tuesday, said he plans to beef up the number of officers, both uniformed and plainclothes, assigned to patrol the Clay Arsenal, Northeast and Upper Albany neighborhoods, where more than 50 percent of the city's shootings and gun homicides have taken place this year. So far this year, there have been 85 people struck by gunfire in Hartford, up from about 54 this time last year.

"There's going to be a lot of blue uniforms out here," the chief said.

Besides the foot patrols, Harnett said, additional officers would be assigned to work on narcotics and gun trafficking investigations to find out how guns and drugs are finding their way to young people. He said the additional officers would be assigned to gun and drug task forces that were put in place earlier this year.

"We believe the vast majority of people in this neighborhood want the same thing all of us want, which is a safe place to live," Harnett said.

Acknowledging that gun violence has reached crisis proportions, Perez said he also has asked Gov. M. Jodi Rell if state police troopers and detectives can help patrol troubled city neighborhoods. He said he has not yet heard if state police will be able to accommodate his request, which would mark the third time in the past five years that state police have been asked to help quell outbreaks of violence in the city.

The mayor disputed views held by many North End residents that the city and the police department have been indifferent to their plight. Perez said much of the violence can be blamed on a culture among many residents that discourages cooperation with police.

"The root cause of crime in our community comes from people in this neighborhood tolerating it," Perez said in press conference to unveil the new anti-violence initiatives, which he said had been in the works for several weeks.

The mayor's comments prompted many in the crowd of several dozen residents to shake their heads.

"Wow, we're the ones being shot at, and now he's telling us we're the ones to blame," said Lorenzo Jones, a North End community activist who showed up at the city's newly built community center on Martin Street to watch the press conference.

The gap between the city's top officials and the residents of the North End was also apparent when Harnett urged the public to be patient before judging his 4-month-old neighborhood policing plan, which has divided the city into different patrol zones with officers and supervisors responsible for addressing crime in their assigned zones.

While Harnett said the plan is making progress in the department's efforts to develop strong relationships with residents, some residents said they have not noticed any difference.

"If the police are so on top of things, why was it that the guy who shot Dante last night was able to get away?" asked Allen Broughton, who said his daughter was among Davis' close friends.

Police said they have not made any arrests in the slaying of Davis, who was killed about 11:20 p.m. while returning from a convenience store with milk for her 1-year-old son, C.J. Police said Davis was standing outside her apartment building at 131 Martin St. when a gunman approached from the intersection of Judson Street and fired several shots, one of which struck her in the head.

Witnesses told police that Davis had been talking with her boyfriend, Christopher Huff, who is her baby's father, when she was shot. Huff and other friends drove Davis to St. Francis Hospital and Medical Center, where she was pronounced dead, police said.

A despondent and soft-spoken Huff said Wednesday that he and Davis had been trying to save enough money to leave their neighborhood and move to a quieter spot in Hartford where they could raise their son. He said he was holding her in his arms when she was shot by a man who emerged from the darkness and, after firing the shots, ran off.

"I was holding her," he said, fighting tears. "She didn't do nothing wrong, and now my son doesn't have a mother."

Huff and others who were close to Davis said she was a graduate of A.I. Prince Technical High School who had been working full-time as a medical apprentice at a clinic in Windsor.

While a student at A.I. Prince, she was honored for math achievement. Earlier, she and her teammates from the Boys and Girls Clubs were runners-up in a national photo and essay contest by documenting the effects of the demolition of the Charter Oak Terrace housing complex. And at Camp Courant, she placed second in a photo contest.

She was described as a dedicated mother who had many friends in the North End neighborhood.

"She took great joy in her baby; they were always together," said her aunt, Faye Noland. "She was trying to live a good life, and she knew it wasn't safe on the street. But she needed to get some milk for C.J."

The sidewalk where Davis was shot is across the street from the spot where 18-year-old James "Jamie" Carter was shot and killed last month. Residents and activists who regularly work with young people in the North End said Martin Street has become emblematic of the deep social problems gripping the city's neighborhoods.

"Kids are angry, kids are desperate, they have no hope and they're afraid. That's a dangerous combination," said Guillermo Mendez, a longtime resident who said he frequently works with young people to show them ways to avoid a life of violence.

Antonio Artis, 27, one of dozens of people who turned up to pay their respects, said young men in the North End would gladly give up a life of drug dealing and hustling on the streets if the city could provide meaningful job and educational opportunities.

"Most of us have a criminal record, which means no one's gonna hire us," Artis said. "What are we supposed to do? We have to eat."

Artis said he recently returned from a trip to Florida in which he hoped to improve his prospects by taking courses in carpentry and other manual skills. But when he returned to Hartford, he said, he still could not find work.

"It's tough up here, man," he said. "Everybody has a gun, it seems like, and everybody's willing to use it.

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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