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
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
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
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
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
"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
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
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
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.
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