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They’re Talking about the ACLU Report in New York and Chicago …

Posted by whforums on January 9, 2009

As you probably know, a few weeks ago (way back in 2008 ) the ACLU released a report that cited alarming arrest rates in West Hartford, Hartford and East Hartford schools. The ACLU’s essential concern was that, in our schools, “the trend is toward criminalizing students, not educating them.” The “them” in that sentence, however, is the real problem — the ACLU found that there are significant racial and ethnic disparities in school-based arrests. You can read my “close-reading” of the ACLU report as it relates to West Hartford directly in the post West Hartford and the ACLU’s “Hard Lessons” Report. The report is linked for download in that post as well.

What’s surprised me, in a period that’s been fairly lively for this blog, has been the lack of local conversation about the ACLU report. I mean, maybe there’s nothing to say — maybe we implicitly (or explicitly) accept discrimination and this report fails to elicit dialog because it confirms an implicit belief. Yet when it comes to protecting and developing an equal quality of life (and, more basically, equal treatment for all people), there’s little more poisonous than complacency.

With out without us, the web is becoming less and less complacent about the report. Around the web …:

➫ Shortly after the release of the report, “a public defender” (a Connecitcut legal blog) wrote a post that echoed the ACLU’s sentiment about the “school to prison pipeline” and, in the comments section, connected the finding to the racial and ethnic disparity in the American prison population.

➫ On January 4th, the New York Times wrote an editorial citing the report, arguing that “Connecticut and other states also need to issue public reports of school-based arrests and take steps to ensure that they are not racially motivated.” While the NYT recognizes that the problems cited in West Hartford, East Hartford and Hartford are not just local problems, we can’t ignore that the word “Connecticut” at the start of that sentence is at least in part a pronoun for “West Hartford, East Hartford and Hartford.”

➫ On Monday, Small Talk, an education blog in Chicago, picked up the story, using the report (and the arrest disparities in West Hartford/East Hartford specifically) as a way to argue against what it perceives to be “barbaric school district policies.”

The short of it? Conversation about the report is happening, and Greater Hartford is the proxy (or worse, the example) for that conversation. While West Hartford, East Hartford and Hartford may only be ways for many communities to beging to talk about a larger, national problem, that does nothing to change the fact that the report is screaming at our communities “the problem may be ours, but we can prove it’s yours.” Which leaves me with the question I started with one month ago — what steps do we take, both big and small, in light of the ACLU’s report?

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Posted in Hartford, Institutionalized Discrimination, Local Democracy, Media, National News, West Hartford, WHPS | Tagged: , , , | 7 Comments »

Trains and “Greater Hartford”

Posted by whforums on December 29, 2008

So, I’ve been thinking about trains lately.  And I’m not the only one – although this particular post has been kicking around in my head for a while, a lot of other local blogs have written about the topic already.  In fact, trains are the transportation trend of the moment.

For example, Heather B. over at Urban Compass has written extensively about the proposed Springfield to Hartford line (that’s where, in the comments section, I first worked out a draft of what I’m trying to think through here).  West Hartford’s own Representative Chris McCluskey has seconded the notion, arguing that a line that connects Springfield-Hartford-New Haven makes more sense than the proposed New Britain-Hartford Busway, not in small part because it would provide Hartford (and the residents of the West Hartford he represents) easier access to New York.  Over at Real Hartford, a similar argument has been made for investing in train infrastructure.

What I find particularly alluring about the proposal I’ve read about the Springfield-Hartford-New Haven line is the way it regionalizes not only the service, but our cities.  One of the great strengths of New England (and one of its great weaknesses, too) is its provincialism – because we are a band of “small cities” (we are Hartford, Providence, Springfield, Worcester, New Haven, etc.) with definite senses of identity, we too often limit ourselves within those cities and identities.  What rail has the potential to do – especially if the trains move fast enough – is to unite our small cities while still protecting (if not further defining) their provincial identities.  Because such rail would lead to an inherent reconsideration of the geographical relationships between these places (a shrinking region), we would also likely see a significant reconsideration of the social and economic relationships between these places (in other words, it would be a “naturally imposed” regionalization).  Let’s face it – does Hartford’s economy stand a better chance of rebounding on its own, or does it stand a better chance of rebounding through an alliance with Springfield, New Haven and beyond?  The answer to the question seems self evident, and the Springfield-Hartford-New Haven line promises a greater inflow of people (and cash) into each city.

When I had first started thinking about rail – before reading the stuff that others have written – I have to admit my thought process was a lot more short sighted.  I was thinking of light rail that could serve to connect the center of Hartford to it sprawl in a rapid “off-road” kind of way.  I was imagining a train that ran with consistent and fairly constant service to New Hartford in the west and Bolton or even Mansfield (to connect UCONN to Hartford) in the east.  My thought was that this would provide a convenient way to cut down on traffic congestion in greater Hartford while also making it easier for everyone to get to Hartford – to make Hartford not just an economic hub, but a thriving downtown destination not seen since our Hartford Whalers salad days (ha!).  Such rail could also lead to significant new development along the line itself while fostering regional solutions to local and regional problems (it would be a way to link municipalities through transportation, just as Mayor Slifka, along with the mayors of East Hartford and Middletown, are trying to link the needs of their “small cities” politically). While the Springfield-Hartford-New Haven line certainly offers more significant economic opportunity and advantage, the success of such a line (and, once the economy turns around, newly rising gas prices) may make such a “local line” seem more and more palatable.

Rail, of course, comes with its own expenses.  I don’t know how much it costs to lay or lease rail (I’m sure it’s not cheap), I don’t know how much a train would cost, and I certainly don’t know how much money it would suck from the state budget in terms of annual and long term maintenance.  Stations and parking would need to be built. And despite the narrow-minded idealism of what I’ve just written, I certainly would agree with anyone who argues that any local or macro-local transportation solutions must be intermodal (and, since I think we all agree on the importance of intermodal transportation, why on earth would trains not be one of our significant “modes”)?  Fact is, nouveau-rail is an idea that’s of its moment both locally and nationally.  As Obama promises funding for national infrastructure improvements, it seems to me that if we don’t get on the train “train” now, the next scheduled stop will be long in the making.

Posted in Federal Government, Hartford, Regionalism, Transportation, West Hartford | Tagged: , , , , | 3 Comments »

West Hartford Credit Union Goes Belly Up — The Hartford Just Goes Up

Posted by whforums on December 7, 2008

I know, I know.  Your first thought was probably the same as mine — West Hartford had a credit union?  And it was called the West Hartford Credit Union?

Obvioulsy, none of us likes to see a local business fail, but what really stand out to me about this story (as reported in the Courant version, anyway) is the relative obscurity of the business itself.  When Lane and Lenge left The Center, and when Simmer shuttered, well, those were quasi-big deals to me — local businesses that were looking to protect their profit margins by leaving high rents behind (well, I thought that was the deal with Simmer).  But in this case, I’m really struck by the anonymity of this apparently veteran small business — the credit union was 58 years old, had somewhere between 2 and 4 million dollars in assets (depending on the version of the story you read)  and somewhere between 1,200 and 1,400 customers.  If we ridiculously assume that all of those customers were residents, we’re talking about roughly 2% of the population of the town (granted, that market share is a lot bigger than the market share of this blog — but then, I’m not trying to make a profit, either). It’s not that I’m saying that market share was uber-small — I guess I’m saying, in a market like West Hartford, and even with a name like West Hartford (on your bank, no less), I’m really taken aback that I never even knew the institution existed.

In some ways, I guess I also feel a twisted guilt.  I bank with several mammoth institutions, each of which is essentially devoid of local roots (not that my accounts would have made a difference for “our” credit union, and not that “our” credit union would have done me much good while traveling, either).  But there’s another weird fact in this whole situation that gives me pause.  The West Hartford Credit Union?  Yeah.  Its offices were in Farmington.

As the “WHCU” was going under, shares of the The Hartford went through “the roof” (though the roof has been lowered by, oh, about 90%, recently).  This is good for many in my family (and for many in yours, I’m sure — The Hartford is a mammoth employer for residents of West Hartford), but it serves as a stark reminder of the fog we’re in — a fog in which a bank I’ve never heard of seems to have as tenuous a grasp on existence as a mega-major company upon which our entire region depends.

Posted in Crap Economy, Hartford, West Hartford | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »

ACLU Cites Higher Arrest Rates for Minority Students in West Hartford

Posted by whforums on November 18, 2008

The ACLU yesterday released a report about minority student arrest rates in Hartford, East Hartford and West Hartford that revealed some startling data. Some of the “highlights,” from the ACLU press release:

  • In 2006-2007, black and hispanic students represented 24 percent of the student population, but 63 percent of all arrests.
  • Black students in West Hartford were twice as likely to be arrested after a fight than were white students.
  • and … “students of color committing minor disciplinary infractions were more likely to get arrested than white students committing the very same offenses.”

In The Courant, Police Chief Strillacci responded skeptically, arguing that not all fights are made equal, that arrests can be a socially positive force and defending the School Resource Officers at Hall and Conard.

You can read the ACLU’s entire 50 page report here. For me, it’s weekend reading.

My quick .02, based on the highly publicized data — I think West Hartford’s SROs rock, and I think our teachers rock. But I find the data extremely disturbing. There’s a long pipeline of people between the incident that occurs, the documentation of that incident, the witnesses to that incident, the intervention of administration, the intervention of the SRO and the intervention of other officers. And all along that pathway there are opportunities for latent, unexamined and perhaps even unconsidered prejudice to accumulate and inflect the equal rights of all students. This is not an accusation of racism — this is an argument that we all hold unexamined prejudices that shape and impact our day to day experience and actions in ways we likely don’t notice. It’s also an argument that, because of that prejudice, school may be a very different place for a student depending on the tone of their skin. For a district as concerned with the achievement gap as West Hartford, that’s something that should make everyone stand up and take notice.

Given these numbers (and it’s the third bullet that really gets me), and whatever we think of the ACLU report, it seems that at the least it presents each of us with the opportunity to take a step back, examine our prejudices and our parenting. West Hartford, if there’s even a semblance of validity in these numbers, then somewhere, we (that’s you, me and our town as a whole) have a problem.

Another looming concern here — the potential scapegoating of the School Resource Officers, who, in this context make an easy target. Blaming the SROs seems not only irresponsible, but an easy way to “deal” with a problem without making it go away. School Resource Officers have difficult and dangerous jobs, and to lay a town’s problems at the feet of one public servant who enacts policy but does not influence it seems at best misguided …

Posted in Hartford, Uncategorized, West Hartford, WHPS | Tagged: , , | 1 Comment »

Quinnipiac 63, Hartford 62

Posted by whforums on November 15, 2008

In West Hartford we spend a lot of time talking about our great public schools while ignoring the fact that within our borders we have 3 colleges/universities (Saint Joseph College, UCONN-Hartford and the University of Hartford).  With Capital Community College and Tunxis Communitiy College just up and down the road respectively, and with Central Connecticut State just around the corner, West Hartford has the good fortune at being at the nexus of a lot of cultural events.

Between all of those institutions of higher learning, we also have two under-covered (and under-attended) division one basketball teams — the University of Hartford Hawks and the Central Connecticut Blue Devils.  The University of Hartford’s women’s team has done extremely well over the past three seasons, winning two NCAA tournament games.  The CCSU men have also advanced to the NCAAs, getting bounced by Greg Oden and Ohio State.

The Hartford men, on the other hand, have yet to make the NCAA tournament, although they did make the America East championship game last year.  As the team of our town (though not by name nor entirely by geography), and as a NCAA tournament team in waiting, this blog is adopting them for the 2008-2009 season.

The first result?  A not so stirring 63-62 loss to Quinnipiac last night.  You can get the details here.

Up next?  What is sure to be Hartford’s most covered game of the season — a showdown with UCONN on Monday.

Posted in Hartford, Local Sports, West Hartford | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

So, These Oakwood Avenue Shootings

Posted by whforums on November 1, 2008

I’d be curious to hear the general town reaction to the October 19th shootings at the UAW Hall on Oakwood. You know, the “baby shower shootings” (as if a shooting on the periphery of a baby shower is worse than a shooting anywhere else).

As I read through the coverage, it seemed pretty obvious that there was a (non-organized, unconscious) desire to make the forceful, implicit argument that the violence came to West Hartford but didn’t start here — that the violence had its origin in some other town where these sorts of things happen. And at the same time, I found myself wondering, had this shooting happened a half mile down the road — in Hartford rather than in West Hartford, would it have received the same media attention? Or would it just be another “Hartford shooting?”

So let me get you started with my opinion — which you can probably smell 3 websites away. The sources of this violence are regional, folks, and it’s as much West Hartford’s problem as anyone else’s. And you know what? My guess is that, if we sorted through the news stories from 2008, we’d find a significant percentage of arrested “Hartford Residents” with West Hartford roots.

Here’s the problem. If we continue to dismiss regional violence as a non-regional problem, even if we do so implicitly — if we continue to dismiss this as a problem we can safely appropriate to a city’s limits — then we ignore that its scope, impact and origin are decidedly regional, and our dismissals only serve to perpetuate the violence and its myths. Until our thinking, even in these “belt-tightening” times, is a regional thinking, it’s going to be too easy to close our rental halls (and I don’t blame the UAW for doing that), put our fingers in our ears, and pretend that our greatest problems are our budgets and our development projects — rather than the economic segregation West Hartford (and when I write West Hartford, you better believe I’m writing “You and I”) both enacts and enables.

Posted in Crime, Hartford, Media, Regionalism, Uncategorized, West Hartford | Tagged: , , | 4 Comments »