If history is still a reliable predictor, bringing the state
police into Hartford and flooding the North End neighborhoods
with cops will work, at least for a time.
The cops will find some of the shooters, and others will take
it on the lam until the heat is off. The drug sales will move
around, until dealers find a place where they can reopen for
Hartford is a few months into another cycle of violence, with
homicides and shootings up substantially from last year. Every
decade or so, the urban volcano erupts and young men start blowing
each other away. A few bystanders - an honor student, a mother
out to buy milk - get killed as well. Families grieve and the
people trying to promote the city pull their hair out.
While law enforcers have been able to suppress these outbreaks
before, they haven't stopped them from recurring.
Police often focus on places. They catalogue and attack crime
by neighborhood and section of the city. That's helpful - criminals
commit crimes where they live - but it's not the whole answer.
To root out the problem, more attention must be paid to the individuals.
Here's a start. In April, Chief State's Attorney Christopher
Morano and state Child Advocate Jeanne Milstein convened a meeting
of two dozen social service and community organizations to talk
about violence prevention among young people. Mayor Eddie Perez
urged them to talk about jobs.
They did. They agreed to support the city's regular summer jobs
program, which will employ 1,000 youngsters but has another 600
on the waiting list.
In addition, Morano and Milstein are trying to raise $1.7 million
- $420,000 for this year - to start a year-round program for
250 adolescents who are at risk of embracing a life of drugs
and crime. These will be young people who are on parole or probation
from the juvenile justice system, or who've otherwise been identified
as in need of help.
What they'll get is a year-round
job, education, internships and mentoring. Milstein cited research
showing that mentoring of seventh- and eighth-grade students
resulted in less drug use, teen pregnancy and other of the
familiar urban pathologies. "These
kids need caring and consistent adults," she said.
She and Morano have asked the business community to support
them, and I hope they do. Jobs are good. They keep kids busy
and provide them a legal source of income. One of the characteristics
of a high-crime neighborhood is poverty. The more jobs the better.
Young single women getting pregnant is another issue worthy
of more attention. One of the murder victims earlier this year
was a 34-year-old man who had fathered 12 children by four women.
Those kids come into the world with the same capacities as most
other kids, but they just aren't going to have the same opportunities.
They're not going to grow up and be president. Barring a miracle,
they're going to grow up undereducated and angry. Unless something
changes, they're down for the 2015 cycle of violence.
What's intriguing is that officials think they can identify
250 at-risk kids. How about the 25 worst of the bunch?
Studies in Boston, Buffalo and elsewhere have shown that a small
number of people are doing most of the violent crime. Hartford
police officers have told me that most of the gun violence in
the city can be traced to 30 to 40 major miscreants.
Well, focus on them. Study them, as the FBI did with the Mafia.
Learn how they operate. Then either arrest them or give them
a final ultimatum - your next crime is your last, here's a job
if you want to straighten out.
Once these leaders are off the streets, the good people in the
North End neighborhoods should be less afraid to join together
and demand civil behavior. Ultimately, the neighborhood has to
Perez is doing some things
right. His homeownership initiative helps stabilize neighborhoods.
His personal offer of help to men about to get out of prison
was an excellent idea. The new businesses and commercial life
along Albany Avenue are positive signs. Organizations such
as the Boys & Girls Club are worth
their weight in gold. The new police chief, Patrick Harnett,
is a competent professional.
Nonetheless, people are still coming into Hartford to sell guns
and buy drugs. After the jobs program gets going, officials need
to turn their attention to drug treatment, which must be available
on demand. I'd like to see a greater sense of urgency. As I was
writing this last week, state Rep. Marie Kirkley-Bey called,
angry and upset. The state was going to put $2 million into summer
youth employment programs. They cut it to $1 million.
Tom Condon is the editor of Place. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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