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Mayhem-First Mindset On Street A Perplexing Problem

February 15, 2006
Commentary By Stan Simpson

Elsie Figueroa and Luis Rivera, a couple of New Britain teenagers with too much free time, allegedly killed a man because they thought it would be "fun" to pick a fight with him.

The Jan. 25 stabbing serves as an indirect backdrop for what could only be called an emergency summit Gov. M. Jodi Rell convened Tuesday with more than a dozen urban mayors and Public Safety Commissioner Leonard Boyle. The topic: an excessive number of guns on the streets - and the willingness of the young guns in the neighborhoods to shoot people, even at the slightest provocation.

Though no gun was involved in the Figueroa and Rivera case, it is the youths' mindset for mayhem that presents elected officials with an even more perplexing problem.

"They were just looking for a fight," New Britain Mayor Timothy Stewart said. "They ended up stabbing a 34-year-old man to death on a street corner. There were no drugs or guns. It was just the mentality. What makes people think like that? I don't understand it."

Jonathan Castro of Hartford, a high school freshman, said that behavior concerns him, and he frets about his younger sisters, ages 12 and 10.

"I'm only 16," he said, waiting on the corner of Main Street and Albany Avenue for a bus home. "I'm not even an adult, and I don't want to die at an early age like a couple of people I knew."

Henrietta Beckman of Hartford still mourns for her 20-year-old son Randy. He was shot dead four years ago while in a car on Cleveland Avenue, an apparent case of mistaken identity. There have been no arrests.

Mindless shootings over even the mildest of confrontations or perceived slights aren't just isolated in Connecticut. The New York Times last Sunday gave front-page treatment to similar gun-related fatalities stemming from petty beefs in other urban centers, including Milwaukee, Houston, Boston, New York and Philadelphia.

How bad is the violence problem in Connecticut's cities? Bridgeport Mayor John Fabrizi called it an "epidemic" - and he's not even running for governor.

All the obligatory solutions were tossed out after the governor's meeting, including tougher legislation for illegal guns, more money for after-school and faith-based programs, state and local police partnerships and re-entry programs for ex-felons. But few had answers for how to change the mayhem-first mindset rooted in a small but destructive segment.

A band of Hartford residents who rallied Tuesday afternoon on Main Street blamed movies, music videos, video games, even cartoons for creating a culture in which firing a gun in anger is acceptable behavior.

They lamented how the guys with the guns intimidate the good folks in the neighborhoods, which then leads the good neighbors to start thinking that maybe they too should start packin' for protection.

Meanwhile, the distrust between the police and the neighbors is palpable.

Angie Sutton, 28, of Hartford said urban violence is a reflection of despair. A lack of parenting skills, respect and values are also elements, she said, that shouldn't be ignored.

"If the parents have lost the way, then the children have no way," said Sutton, whose father, James Washington, was murdered four years ago inside the convenience store he owned on Enfield Street in Hartford. "So, it's almost like we have to redevelop morals and a value system all over again."

Instead of a political solution, this calls for a spiritual one.

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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