The cowardly daytime carjacking and shooting outside a religious school Thursday happened at what is indisputably one of the safest spots in North Hartford.
The corner of Woodland Street and Albany Avenue is home to three community icons in the Upper Albany district - The Artists Collective; The Hartford-Area Seventh Adventist School and The Collin Bennett building. All provide numerous services and programs, including those for young people.
Even the street hoods respect what's going on there, hence no graffiti, no broken windows and little or no crime on the properties.
A rally Friday in front of the school called out for more security, police presence and neighborhood accountability. But security wasn't the problem Thursday.
The real issue was that some troubled soul was so hopeless, hapless and desperate that he considered shooting a woman in a car, in front of her child on school grounds, as an option.
This isn't a Hartford problem, folks. It's a societal one. If the carjacker had carried out this brazen act just 1 mile farther west, he'd have been in West Hartford.
"There's an element out there that just doesn't care, that just wants to get what they can get," said Gem Cumberbatch, who was picking up her 10-year-old daughter from the religious school Friday. "Only someone who is idle with nothing to do would be that desperate to do something like that. Either they're not working, on drugs .... I don't think we'll ever get to the root of the problem."
Frederick Smith ran a New Haven behavioral health organization before becoming executive director of the struggling ONE/CHANE community group last year.
He says the holiday season is always ripe for folks disconnected from society to act out in aberrant ways.
"They want to draw attention to themselves or their situation," Smith said. "Obviously, something troubling is happening in their life that they're trying to get a resolution to. Sometimes this is a last resort for them. They're at wit's end."
People send their children to the Artists Collective and the Hartford Area Seventh-Day Adventist School because of the structured programs, nurturing teachers and safe environs.
Although the carjacking is obviously a frightful thing for anyone to experience, it should be seen for what it is - an isolated horrifying incident, but not the norm for this particular corner.
"I've never seen anything like this happen before," said parent Deberan Parks, who has sent two of her children to the religious school in the past eight years.
Melaine Thorpe, 12, is in her first year at the school. The seventh-grader said we probably don't know the full story behind the attack.
"If he only wanted the car, why did he have to shoot her?" she asks. "It may have been about something else."
Melaine fears the attacker will return, but also has noticed the number of community people trying to improve Upper Albany.
"I think they're trying their hardest, but there's still places in Hartford where violence is going on," she said.
Upper Albany is poised for new development, including a new performing arts center at the University of Hartford, a YMCA building and a restaurant-retail site at the Albany-Woodland corner.
In the past few months, I've seen more cops on the street and - dare I say - the sidewalks are looking cleaner.
If anything, Upper Albany is resilient.
Thursday's shooting should not be viewed as a setback to the momentum gaining there.
Just a reminder that much more needs to be done.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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