At a meeting of the Maple Avenue Revitalization Group the other night, a woman got up to say she's afraid to go outside. Another neighborhood resident said, incredibly, that he won't walk the streets late in the evening unless he's carrying a loaded weapon.
They spoke about their fear at a time when there had been three murders in the area in just five days. That would scare anybody.
The police representative in the room responded with city hall talking points that most people in Hartford are tired of hearing by now, saying, in so many words: Crime, overall, is down. These murders weren't random events — they most likely were drug-related — so they aren't as threatening as you might think. And so on.
It's more than maddening to hear such fainthearted excuse-making from those who are supposed to protect us when the city's reputation is going up in smoke and law-abiding citizens are scared witless. Stray bullets never maimed or killed anyone in Hartford, Mr. Policeman? The audacity of desperadoes' settling scores with guns in one's own neighborhood isn't cause for alarm? Come on.
At the same time, an internal police memorandum obtained by The Courant concluded that there is a "gang infestation" in the city. The memo said the police department's intelligence division has identified 138 street gangs with nearly 4,200 members, including 800 under 17. It also noted that "the most alarming increase in gang activity has been documented within the public middle schools."
This is frightening stuff, although Police Chief Daryl K. Roberts later tried to take the edge off of it by saying the memo didn't distinguish between "formal gangs" and "informal gangs" of loosely affiliated youths.
Well, which is it? Does Hartford have a "gang infestation" or not? Is the problem more serious than officials have been letting on? Or is the memo, written in support of a grant application, only humbug?
Since the city won't speak truth to them, parents told the truth to the chief and schools superintendent in a meeting Wednesday: They said their children and grandchildren report that there is indeed a gang problem in school.
As the homicide toll mounts and claims about gang activity conflict, Hartford residents are worried sick. They are owed the truth; a sense of urgency by the mayor, the police chief and even the governor; and action equal to the threat.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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