March 17, 2005
By TINA A. BROWN, Courant Staff Writer
In the aftermath of the
recent shootings and stabbings of Hartford teenagers, federal,
state and local authorities say they are discussing ways to curb
the violence in the city and elsewhere in the state.
The various quarters dealing with youth violence are not developing
a single plan. However, they are all uneasy that recent incidents
involve children - as victims and sometimes perpetrators. They
are discussing options ranging from tougher gun laws and more
enforcement, to finding members of the community to work with
youths and their families.
"I'm concerned about the organized criminal activity among
youth, not just in Hartford but in Manchester and surrounding
towns," said Kevin O'Connor, the U.S. attorney for Connecticut.
In Manchester, a 12-year-old has been charged with being one
of three people who severely injured a man in an apparently random
beating. Other recent incidents connected to youth violence have
been reported in East Hartford and West Hartford.
"I'm afraid about the resurgence of gang activity," O'Connor
said Wednesday. "Everyone in the law enforcement community
has concerns about the recent spate of violence in Hartford.
You hope that it is an aberration and is short-lived.
"Hartford will get this under control. But you hope in
the meantime that we don't see any more loss of life," O'Connor
Hartford Mayor Eddie Perez said Wednesday he expects the city
to announce a new approach to targeting gun violence within the
next 30 days.
Meanwhile, O'Connor said the federal government is assigning
two more Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives
agents to Hartford this spring and is sending more funding for
city police overtime. O'Connor requested the additional help
In the past month, five city youths have been seriously injured
or killed in acts of violence. That alone has the mayor and Police
Chief Patrick J. Harnett discussing new strategies to address
In the latest incident, 16-year-old
Joselyn Cruz was shot in the head and leg Monday while she shopped
after 11 p.m. for candy inside the U-Stop Convenience Store on
Barbour Street. Police released a videotape Wednesday that partially
showed the incident, and asked for the public's help in identifying
one of the shooters seen firing a gun on the tape.
Harnett, a proponent of stricter gun laws, said he hopes that
federal agents will target those who legally buy large numbers
of guns and later sell them illegally on the streets of Hartford.
The shootings of particular
concern, which date to last December, when two high school
students were shot while waiting for school buses, "reflect a violent trend among youth in this country,
not just Hartford," Harnett said.
Police are investigating all
the incidents, he said. "We
aren't sitting back on our laurels. Any one of these cases is
too many," Harnett said.
Like O'Connor, Chief State's Attorney Christopher Morano and
Hartford's State's Attorney James Thomas, Harnett said just prosecuting
youths isn't enough when there are many underlying social problems.
They said they are attempting to find committed people in the
city's schools, parents and advocates interested in working with
city youths to change the way they resolve conflict.
Child Advocate Jeanne Milstein, chairwoman of the state's child
fatality review board, said Wednesday that something must be
done when four youngsters under the age of 16 have been killed
statewide in the past two months.
"We are keenly concerned about the homicide victims because
they are getting younger and younger," she said. "This
is new to us."
Milstein suggested that authorities consider offering more parenting
classes and trauma treatment and find more ways to connect fathers
with their children.
O'Connor said he has offered support if needed to Hartford police
through the FBI, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and
Explosives and other federal agencies. The second-prong of the
federal attack, O'Connor said, is working with the state's attorney
in Hartford, who is already referring certain cases of convicted
adult felons caught with guns to federal prosecution under a
program that allows longer sentences.
O'Connor said federal authorities do not have the capability
to prosecute youths under the age of 18, even if they are accused
of committing serious crimes.
Thomas, however, said his
office is not afraid to prosecute defendants as young as 14
as adults. "If you are old enough
to carry a gun, you should be treated as an adult," he said.
Morano said police in many Connecticut cities only had to look
inside the schools to see that the problem of youth violence
is on the rise.
"There's more fights resulting in violence over little
things and more violence involving girls. That speaks volumes," Morano
Equally as alarming, he said,
is that younger children are resorting to "adult style
violence in the Hartford area and some of our larger cities."
"I don't think it is organized gang activities, but if
it goes unchecked, it will result in that. It needs to be addressed
now," he said.
"It's more like anarchy than an organized society," Morano
said. "I'm concerned that without a structure of a gang,
we'll see more small pockets of individuals using violence with
less provocation. Both are unacceptable."
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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