‘A Slow Banal Mass Killing’

Lawmakers Call For Investing New Revenues in Connecticut's Cities

Lawmakers from Hartford, Bridgeport and New Haven are calling on the state legislature to allocate money from taxes on gaming and marijuana to violence prevention programs in the state’s urban centers. 

State Sen. Douglas McCrory, D-Hartford, said during a press conference on Wednesday that programs like these needed both a state and a federal funding stream. While one option for state funding could be through the appropriations budget, he said he was particularly interested in the revenues from online gaming. 

“You want to bet? Well, I’m going to bet on my community. I think that makes a whole lot of sense to me,” he said. “These people that we’re talking about live in some of the most disadvantaged neighborhoods in this country.” 

McCrory said that he would refuse to support marijuana legalization if the legislature did not put the funds toward communities in the greatest need. 

State Sen. Gary Winfield, D-New Haven, agreed. 

“You want to bet? Well, I’m going to bet on my community. I think that makes a whole lot of sense to me,” he said. “These people that we’re talking about live in some of the most disadvantaged neighborhoods in this country.” 

“There will be no cannabis legalization in this state without equity being defined, without it being a serious part of the bill,” he said. 

State Sen. Marilyn Moore, D-Bridgeport, urged nonprofits that do violence prevention to form a coalition and create a five-year plan that would be supported with a combination of state funds and money from the American Rescue Plan Act. 

“We have to build collective power. We have to collaborate,” Moore said during a press conference on Wednesday. “You can’t pit these organizations against one another and give them the crumbs from the table.” 

The federal American Rescue Plan Act allocates $5 billion over eight years to support evidence-based community violence prevention programs across the country. Moore said that having a coalition would allow these organizations to get the most out of whatever portions of those funds will come to Connecticut.

“We want to make sure when that money comes here, it’s not nickeled and dimed,” she said. “It’s not a little bit here, a little bit there, but there’s a master plan for how you address that.”

Moore also gave her support for using the money collected from marijuana and online gaming to support underserved municipalities. 

“When you start talking about marijuana, when you start talking about gambling, who is impacted the most by that? We are — Black and Brown people,” she said. “We want some of that money to go into programs that address our ills in our community.”

“A slow, banal mass killing”

The press conference convened in response to two separate fatal shootings in Hartford on Saturday. One of the victims, Ja’Mari Preston, was 16. The other, Randell Tarez Jones, was three years old. 

Jacquelyn Santiago, CEO of Compass Youth Collaborative in Hartford, which provides mentorship, case management and group after-school programs for at-risk youth, said the kids they work with in the community witness violence every day. 

“Some kids told me that they couldn’t even sit down to do their homework in front of their desk because the minute they picked up the cell phone to go answer it, a bullet flew through the window,” she said. “That would have been another victim.”  

“I was raised and born in Bridgeport. And I see the same thing over and over again: They get arrested, they go to jail, they come home. They have no jobs. It’s hard to get jobs. They go back into the system. That’s what’s been going on,” he said. 

Hartford reached a six-year high in shootings last year, reporting 188 shootings in mid-October, according to an analysis of police data by the Hartford Courant

Harold Dimbo, program manager of Project Longevity in Bridgeport, an organization that works with police and social services to support victims and potential perpetrators of violence, said that the violence is part of a trend that he has been witnessing for years.  

“I was raised and born in Bridgeport. And I see the same thing over and over again: They get arrested, they go to jail, they come home. They have no jobs. It’s hard to get jobs. They go back into the system. That’s what’s been going on,” he said. 

Winfield said that punitive gun laws weren’t going to solve the ongoing violence without devoting the necessary resources to improve people’s lives.

“What we are seeing in our cities is a slow, banal, mass killing,” he said. 

“Where a kid can have a safe space” 

The state has earmarked funding toward youth gun violence prevention programs in the past. Between 2019 and 2021, Hartford received $350,000, and Bridgeport and New Haven each received $375,000. Meriden, Waterbury and West Haven also received funding. All together, the amount totaled about $1.74 million. 

But program organizers say that they do not have nearly enough resources to address the work that needs to be done in their respective communities.  

Dimbo said that Project Longevity has two people working in Hartford, two in Bridgeport and one in New Haven. 

“How do you handle 83 clients with two people? How do you get out to every house with just two people?” he said. 

“It’s not about just these three cities. It’s about New Britain. It’s about Stamford. It’s about Norwalk. We have to start putting our money where our mouth is. We have to start caring about everybody in this state,” she said.

Leonard Jahad, executive director of the Connecticut Violence Intervention Program, which offers afterschool activities, tutoring, mental health services, food and clothes for young people, as well as outreach and mediation, said he had five outreach workers employed for all of New Haven. 

“We’re fortunate enough to have a building in New Haven, one building,” he said. “I need nine more buildings in New Haven. Hartford needs 10. Bridgeport needs 10 — in every ‘hood. Where a kid can have a safe space.  

State Sen. Patricia Miller, D-Stamford, said the violence isn’t isolated to Bridgeport, New Haven and Hartford. 

“It’s not about just these three cities. It’s about New Britain. It’s about Stamford. It’s about Norwalk. We have to start putting our money where our mouth is. We have to start caring about everybody in this state,” she said.

Working together

Many of the nonprofits are scheduled to meet on Friday to discuss how they can further work together. Andrew Woods, executive director of Hartford Communities That Care, is leading the effort. Since January of 2020, Woods has directed the Connecticut Hospital Violence Intervention Program Coalition, a group of violence prevention organizations that partner with Yale-New Haven Hospital, St. Francis Hospital, the Connecticut Medical Center and Hartford HealthCare. 

Any time there is a victim of a violent crime, said Woods, his organization sends people to stay with the victim while he or she is in the hospital. If the individual recovers, they provide access to additional medical support, job training, and other services. These programs exist in hospitals nationwide. 

“I want to do what I need to do to make sure they get what they need,” she said, “So we don’t have to keep having these talks, we don’t have to go to these babies’ funerals and we don’t have to have our hearts broken because we never did the right thing by our communities.”

Glendra Lewis, program manager at the Hartford branch of Project Longevity, told CT Examiner that she would be at the coalition meeting on Friday. She said it would be an opportunity for them to look at what their greatest needs were as a collective. 

“The biggest problem that we’ve had is that we’re looking at individual needs,” said Lewis. “I think that the … thing right now is for us to work together.”

Moore said that, while it was good that the coalition would be meeting on Friday, the federal and state government needed to step up and do its part. 

“I want to do what I need to do to make sure they get what they need,” she said, “So we don’t have to keep having these talks, we don’t have to go to these babies’ funerals and we don’t have to have our hearts broken because we never did the right thing by our communities.”

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