November 24, 2005
by Helen Ubiņas
It shouldn't surprise anyone that the carjacking thought to be a random act of violence wasn't so random after all.
It should come as even less of a surprise that the mother who fought off a bold daytime attack last week likely wasn't a total innocent.
Even while the improbability of it all was staring us in the face - a hooded gunman stealing a car in front of dozens of witnesses only to dump the BMW a few blocks away - we ate the story up. It was too irresistible to pass on.
So was the story of Hartford being the 24th most dangerous city in the nation, a statistical jumble that conjures cliched images of kids shooting randomly into the night and moms getting carjacked in the middle of the day.
A city gone wild. Dangerous. Hopeless.
Catchy. But the reality is Hartford isn't homicidal, it's suicidal.
People don't usually turn their anger, desperation or guns, for that matter, onto strangers coming into the city. They turn them on each other - on friends, on neighbors, on kids who are branded mortal enemies simply because they live a few blocks away.
And too many sign on as silent partners by turning a blind eye to what's right in front of them.
Mothers ignore the drug dealing that allows their kids to buy hundreds of dollars worth of jewelry and clothes because that money also puts food on the table.
Girlfriends allow their lives, and those of their children, to be put at risk because they reap the benefits of the city's underground trade.
And countless businesses thrive from the economics of it all.
Every day, Melvin Harvey told me Tuesday night, kids walk into his Albany Avenue clothing store looking to spend the money they make on the streets: $300 on Rocawear leather jackets. $200 on the gaudy coat with all the Benjamins on it that Harvey agrees is ugly but sends the desired message.
"I only have one left," he says.
Harvey knows what the deal is; he's a product of Hartford. His business is in the middle of one of the toughest neighborhoods in the city. He knows what drives the economy beyond the doors of his business.
He talks to the kids he knows, advises them there's a better way. But, he says, it would be hypocritical of him to preach too hard, not to mention self-defeating. The kids will just take their money down the street. And bottom line, he's a businessman.
Not that the teenage beefs that lead to gunplay, to nighttime ambushes on basketball courts, are always about drugs. They can be about girls or respect, but either way it's the same game: Find your enemy. Destroy your enemy.
After a weekend during which five teens were shot, Weaver High School Principal Paul Stringer canceled the school's pep rally that had been scheduled for Wednesday, and the homecoming dance Friday. He was concerned with the kids' safety. Translation: The place that used to assure a kid's safety just can't anymore - they're safer at home.
Unfortunately that's just not the case for a lot of these kids. Many will be in much more dangerous places if they're not in school. School officials know that, but they are doing what they think they need to get through the week, the latest crisis.
Mica Thomas, a senior at Weaver who was spending her study period outside the school Wednesday, wasn't happy with the decision.
"They say they're concerned for our safety, so they put us all out on Wednesday and say `see you next Monday'?"
A few minutes later, students poured out of the school, lingering outside even though a freezing wind whipped through their jackets. A group of girls talked about maybe going to the movies - but they needed a ride or bus money, and they didn't have either. Others walked slowly into the surrounding streets, in no rush to go home.
"Tre, where you going?" one boy yelled to another across the street.
"I dunno," the other boy said, walking slowly back toward him. "Where you going?"