Updated Saturday, December 22, 2012 1:18 p.m.
By Adam Stulhman, Staff Writer
Long before the Newtown school massacre, Hartford has seen much of its own suffering from gun violence. Between 1998 and 2012, there were 700 lives lost to gun violence. And 200 homicides are left unsolved, according to the Hartford Police Department.
Some residents and officials said they hope that the Newtown tragedy prompts state and city officials to search deeper for answers and find innovative solutions for all communities in Connecticut.
City officials on Friday said one such solution is the Hartford Police Department’s Shooting Task Force, which started earlier this year. The goal of the STF is to “track down and follow 100 of the most dangerous criminals to reduce the risk of gun violence by taking away their guns and rental cars,”said Hartford Police Spokesperson Nancy Mulroy.
With a strong focus on reducing gun violence, the STF is also “focusing on roughly 700 newly released ex convicts.” officials said.
Police Chief Inspector James Rovella said he is working with Hartford Community Service officers, imploring them to work with the families of ex-convicts and victims, getting to learn more about them.
“Knock on their door,” said Rovella. “Build a relationship with their mother, their father, or their baby’s mother, whoever is in the household.”
A Compstat Report from the HPD shows that from Dec. 1, 2011 to Dec. 1, 2012, there has been a 12.5 percent decrease in shootings, from 128 to 112.
Andrew Woods, Executive Director of Communities that Care, says that the problem isn’t just about preventing gun violence, but giving youth more opportunities.
“Kids that are given opportunities are much less likely to resort to violence,” Woods said.
Also, there is also the cumulative effect of violence in the state’s capital city: the mental health of its residents, and how they cope with decades of neglect, some experts say.
Henrietta Beckman, Executive Director of Mothers United Against Violence, feels that mental health has been an issue largely ignored in Hartford, and feels that Hartford has a stigma and perception that plays into the quality of treatment.
“Hartford,” said Beckman, “has dealt with mental health for a long time, and we have been left untreated, not given enough counseling. Being an inner city, there is a difference in the quality of support that Hartford gets versus other populations, like more affluent neighborhoods.”
While Beckman feels terrible for the victims of the Newtown tragedy-and she knows personally how they feel-she wishes that Hartford could receive the same kind of support that Newtown is and will be receiving.
Woods agreed to a point with Beckman that Newtown is going to be getting a lot of resources, but overall he feels that “white people have more resources than people of color.”
“We need an increase in funding and capacity,” Woods said. “We struggle with follow up because of a lack of funds, and it is very frustrating and discouraging.”
Woods also says that Hartford youth that have been victims of violence aren’t getting the help they need, but they have been able to develop survival mechanisms, and believes that if there is a will to move forward, bureaucracies will be able to help effectively.
“Our children have found a way of coping in this environment,” Woods said. “If the will exists, then bureaucracies know how to move.”
Rev. Henry Brown, who also works with MUAV, got involved with gun violence after he lost someone close to him, seven-year old Takira Gaston. Gaston was shot in the face on July 4, 2001.
Brown spoke about suggestions the community could make to stop gun violence:
“We are never going to stop the sale of guns, and we need more mental health resources to commit to our children,” Brown said. “We must be more aware of the problem, taking a look into the movies, music, and video games we sell to children and young adults.”
Brown also supported Woods’ belief, saying that there needs to be increased access to mental health care.
“Mental Health is a number one player in gun violence because children at an early age get oppressed by broken homes, and suffering communities,” Brown said. “Kids suffer through an educational system and other community settings that are not as strong as they are in other parts of the state.”
Some community activists are organizing a forum about unresolved homicides: Seeking Closure and Justice. It is slated for Jan. 29, 2013 and will be at the Phillips Metropolitan C.M.E. Church Community Room, 2550 Main St., Hartford, at 5 p.m.