Community says enough to violence after Hartford double homicide. ‘There’s no one coming to save us’

Church leaders, community members and business owners in the Garden Street area in Hartford say the time to take back control of their neighborhood and make it a safer place is long overdue in the wake of a shooting at an after-hours party over the weekend that left two people dead and a third one injured.

“There’s no one coming to save us,” said Tracy-Ann Johnson, a spokesperson for Walk the Light Church of God, which holds weekly services less than a quarter mile away from the home on Garden Street where the double homicide occurred in the early morning hours Saturday. “It’s time for us to save ourselves.”

Johnson’s comments came at a news conference Monday near a Garden Street home that church leaders allege has been a problem in the neighborhood for years. Late-night parties that occur regularly stretch into the early morning hours and often include excessive alcohol use, they say.

Two dead, one injured following shooting at a house party in Hartford

“Studies have shown a strong relationship between excessive alcohol usage and gun assaults,” said Archbishop Dexter Burke, senior pastor of Walk the Light. “It’s not so much aggressiveness, but that decisions and judgment that would normally be held in check are suddenly disinhibited under consumption of alcohol, and when those decisions are being made in residential neighborhoods where children and seniors reside it further amplifies the problem.”

According to the Hartford Police Department, officers responded to the report of shots fired just after 4:45 a.m. Saturday at a home on Garden Street where police found three men suffering from gunshot wounds while an after-hours party was taking place. Two of the men, including one who was referred to as a suspect in the shooting, were pronounced dead at the scene, police said. The third person was taken to St. Francis Hospital for what was described as non-life-threatening injuries.

According to police, a second shooter was identified who remained at the scene and has been cooperative with investigators.

At the news conference Monday, Burke called out everyone in the neighborhood — including business owners, residents and church leaders — that have turned a blind eye to the crimes being committed every day. The deadly shooting occurred because those in the neighborhood allowed it to happen, he said.

Burke also called on Hartford police officers to increase “hot-spot policing” at places where crimes are known to occur.

“The fact that these house parties were allowed to go on for such a long time speaks to the inability of law enforcement and the willful disregard for law by homeowners and area residents who in the process have watered the soil for tragic events such as Saturday’s loss of lives,” Burke said.

When asked by news reporters how police could have prevented a shooting that occurred amidst a party at a private residence, Burke did not have a clear answer and only alluded to the “likelihood” that there were allegedly alcohol sales at the party.

The Rev. Jeff Powell of New Antioch Baptist Church — which sits on Nelson Street, just one street over from where the shooting occurred — said he has been fighting for the better part of 10 years to get residents evicted from the home where the shooting happened. Efforts to thwart the large, late-night parties have included getting a barricade put up to block off a parking lot across the street where he said cars and cars used to pile up for after-hours events.

“We’re locked up here like we’re in a prison,” Powell said. “The church now looks like a prison.

“It’s been a long time we’ve been fighting this battle,” Powell said, adding that when he has made complaints about the early morning parties police have told him they are not allowed to enter a private residence unless they’re aware of a crime that has been committed.

“Let’s not get in front of the cameras and make it like it’s somebody else’s fault,” Powell continued. “It’s our own fault.”

In response, Burke said he has spoken to residents and business owners in the area, some of whom have agreed to form “genuine partnerships” that include a 24-hour block watch “right here on Garden Street.” Burke declined to say how many people would be participating in the watch or release any further details about it, citing the need to keep information about it away from “the enemy.”

“The most I can tell you is that it started (Saturday),” Burke said of the block watch.

“The community needs to send a clear message that violence and criminal activities will not be tolerated,” Burke said, adding that multiple Garden Street community members also have plans to install and maintain multiple cameras in the area.

“We are here to create change,” Johnson said. “Measurable change. Talk is no longer enough.

“It’s time to bring the heart back to Hartford,” Johnson added. “If not now, when?”

Giselle Jacobs, who lives on Capen Street just around the corner from where the triple shooting occurred, told news reporters she plans on selling her house, as the violence in the neighborhood has become too much and all too often. She said she has three sons and a daughter and that two of her children both survived being shot, including one who was 15 when he was injured in a Garden Street shooting.

Jacobs called on police and parents to take more action to prevent further violence, saying she used to know all the cops in the city when she grew up but that too many officers now are hired from out of town and “sit in their cars waiting for crimes to happen.”

When the mother of four saw one of her own sons headed down a bad path, she said she drove him to the police department and had him “locked up.” And when she learned that her children were sneaking out of her home at night, she said she “nailed the windows shut.”

“It starts with us,” Jacobs said to parents. “We can’t be afraid of our own kids. But some of us are. We gotta stop throwing stones at one another and come together.”

“If we want change, be the change we want to see,” added Kelvin X. Lovejoy of the Blue Hills Civic Organization in Hartford.

“We need community policing, not just policing,” Lovejoy said.

Hartford police Lt. Aaron Boisvert said the shooting “remains under investigation” when asked for comment Monday. He declined to comment on some of the criticisms made against police by residents and church leaders.

Following the news conference Monday, reporters spoke to a man who said his sister owns the home where the triple shooting occurred. He was only identified as “Richard,” declining to provide his last name, and said he was at the home Saturday when the shooting unfolded.

The man conceded that parties are often hosted at the residence, but he denied that they last into the early morning hours. The only activity at the home in the morning is the sale of leftover food from the parties, the man said.