You have to give Hartford cops their props — they sure know how to put on a show.
On a drizzly Monday morning, after the long holiday weekend, a bus dramatically came to a stop outside Hartford Superior Court and — fashionably late — officers from the city and beyond disembarked.
A suited-up police union President Richard Rodriguez took center stage, alongside a few Hartford city council members, state representatives and various other muckety-mucks. Rodriguez then delivered a prepared speech about the dangers of being an officer, the need for tougher penalties for those who assault them and, more important, respect for those men and women in blue.
"We want the community to know that any comment and or actions that advocate the assaulting or the killing of a police officer should not and cannot be tolerated by the very society we serve," Rodriguez said.
"Being assaulted is not, I repeat not, part of this job."
The cops were understandably upset at last month's shooting of one of their own, allegedly by a man appearing in court that morning. It was a danger illustrated even more dramatically by the execution of four officers at a Parkland, Wash., coffee house the day before.
But what really got them heated were comments made by a family member of Dwayne Powell, the man accused of shooting and injuring Hartford Officer Michael Bodner. The woman suggested that Bodner would have been better off dead.
I couldn't agree more with the officers' concerns — and yet all I could think as I counted up the cops in the crowd was that this was a protest in desperate need of a cause.
As unfortunate and unacceptable as the shooting was of Officer Bodner, it's not as if there's some communitywide anti-cop campaign.
Sure, there are people who are frustrated, even angry at cops. For that, look no farther than the third-floor courtroom trial of former Hartford police Officer Robert Lawlor, accused of killing Jashon Bryant in 2005. Even while the rally was underway, a guy who apparently thought the cops were there in support of Lawlor yelled, "He's guilty."
And you better believe the comments made by Powell's relative were offensive. But that's one woman making one dumb comment. She doesn't represent the community at large.
Later, Rodriguez said he didn't think the woman's comments represent the views of city residents. OK — then why the big show?Cops get all sorts of thin-skinned when they think the department is being painted with a broad brush, and yet there they were doing the same to city residents.
Here's an idea, if city officers really are concerned about their safety in the community and residents' reactions to them: Why not rally against officers who bring down the good work of others — like the two Hartford cops who allegedly tuned up a prisoner inside police headquarters last month?
Or, how about rallying against the police department that for years apparently tolerated two yahoos with histories of unprofessional and aggressive behavior?
Better yet, why not fan out into the neighborhoods and the schools and earn the respect that some Hartford officers seem convinced comes from merely wearing a uniform? I know the city's cops are capable; I saw a bunch of young officers doing good community policing in the North End just this summer.
But this rally? Really?At best the spectacle was misguided, a missed opportunity to connect with residents who share the same concerns that officers do.
At worst, it created an unnecessary line in the sand between cops and a community that need each other to succeed and survive.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at