Hartford Shootings and a New Regionalism
Posted by whforums on August 11, 2008
It’s been an unfortunately common summer theme for the city of Hartford – a series of shootings alarms the city and the general metro region, and we have about two weeks of outrage. Then, as other news stories seep through the filter of our day to day consciousness, our outrage about crime in Hartford is channeled elsewhere to the degree that we too often find ourselves passive receptors of language like “another shooting in Hartford last night.” Worse, we don’t just hear the words/phrases “violence” and “inner-city” – we accept them. After all, if I told you there was a place in Hartford county where 110 people have been shot since January, where else would it be? Of course “the problem is in Hartford.”
The real problem here isn’t just our own passivity and latent prejudices – it’s that the consequence of that passivity and prejudice is too often dehumanization. The crime becomes “another shooting in Hartford” in part because the residents of the North End are vague abstractions too many suburbanites know by nothing more than their ghost. And this dehumanization – this idea that the violence happens to “other people” — makes it very easy for the suburbs to disown it. The shootings happen on TV, they happen on the radio, they happen in the paper and on the web – but they don’t happen to “us.”
Well you know what, West Hartford? It’s time that we start taking greater responsibility for our community – not just our town. It’s time that we admit that, as a generally wealthy suburb of Hartford, we’re a driving force behind the economic segregation that creates so many of Hartford’s problems. It’s time that we begin to pursue regional solutions to regional problems. We have for too long ignored (or worse, taken for granted) the passive segregation (and some would argue the active segregation) of our communities.
The aim of this blog is to help enable local conversations about local problems – to give more people a space to constructively argue about the real problems West Hartford faces. And West Hartford does face real problems. Our referendum matters. But that doesn’t change that fact that, this weekend, only seven miles from our Town Hall, a child in a stroller was shot.
The danger of thinking too locally is acquiescence – when we give in to the seemingly natural political forces that divide our region, you and I are enabling the non-regional thinking that continues to undercut the equality upon which our democracy subsists. We may not pay taxes to the city of Hartford (and imagine the complaints about mill rates then), but we are the daughters and sons of this city nonetheless. And until we admit our own culpability in Hartford’s problems – until we own up to the economic segregation of Hartford county and begin to engage in real conversation about ways to consolidate our mutual strengths in the face of our mutual weaknesses — the regional thinking we so direly need will remain that horizon we walk only so far toward.
And that’s the question that lurks behind all of this weekend’s news reports for me: How far is West Hartford willing to go toward a regional solution to Hartford’s violence? After years of sprawl and flight, perhaps it’s time for consolidations that highlight the fact that how we govern is based on borders that are often artificial and always long ago declared.