Monday, November 22, 2004

A Nation Rots from its City Centers Outward, A National Disgrace


(Originally posted on Aug. 2003)

Night Brings Danger To A Busy CornerDrug Dealing, Robbery Thrive Under Neon Lights, In Shadows

August 21, 2003 By MATT BURGARD And MIKE SWIFT, Hartford Courant Staff Writers, Connecticut

It's barely 20 steps from Seon Channer's home to the Shell Food Mart at 949 Albany Ave. But when night falls and the drug dealers start staking out the corner in search of customers, he and the rest of his family follow a simple rule.

"We never go to the store alone," Channer, 23, said on a recent night from the porch of his home on Sterling Street in Hartford, so close to the convenience store that the glare of its neon lights spread across his front yard. "It's too dangerous. Too many people in the shadows waiting to jump you."

The corner where Sterling and two other streets flow into Albany Avenue looks like a crossroads of normalcy, served by the same business names you'd find anywhere in Connecticut - a Dunkin' Donuts, a Fleet Bank, the Shell station.

By day, commuters stop for gas or coffee. Working people catch the city bus at the corner, and children sometimes run amid crushed beer cans and in the narrow alleys behind the station.

It's a regular place populated by ordinary people. But in part because of that air of normalcy, police say 949 Albany Ave. has become a rendezvous point for outside forces - drug dealers from elsewhere in Hartford and users, many of them from the suburbs, who drift in after dark to do business. Then, an aura of menace descends around the station.

In a city that has seen a surge in gun crime over the past three years, 949 Albany Ave. stands out over any other address in the city as a flash point for robberies and street crime committed with a gun, according to a Courant analysis of Hartford police statistics. Those crimes are ultimately caused by the drug trade, police say.

At least one person has died there, but more frequently, they aren't the sort of crimes that make headlines - an addict's car is stolen by a dealer, or an out-of-towner who's come to the corner to buy drugs ends up dragged off and beaten on a hard dirt patch behind the station.

By night, dozens of people huddle by pay phones or in an adjoining lot, some of them getting high, others calling to potential customers in passing cars. Sometimes the silhouetted figures can be seen getting into a heated argument until one of them pulls out a gun and everyone scatters as shots break out.

The exchanges - of money and drugs - are the root cause of virtually all of the crime at the corner, police and residents say.

"It all revolves around the drug activity there," said Det. Winston Brooks, a Hartford police spokesman who used to patrol the area on narcotics duty. "There's a lot of competition for that corner."

The location of the block, not far from the West Hartford line, and the presence of familiar businesses make the corner a magnet for drug buyers, he said.

"It's a 24-hour location. It's well-lit," he said. "For a suburbanite, you get the sense of feeling relatively safe in the area."

For people like Channer, the constant drug crime is a caustic pressure on dreams of owning a home in a safe neighborhood. Outnumbered by addicts and dealers, Channer and others feel the police don't protect them.

Many residents rarely come outside. Gas station employees won't talk about crime. A woman who lives behind the gas station on Cabot Street refused to answer questions when a reporter knocked on her door.

"It's bad, that's all you need to know," the woman said before shutting the door.


Channer, who moved into the three-story house at the corner of Albany and Sterling with his parents last year, has seen turf battles quickly flare up and get settled with guns.

"Trust me, it ain't like the old days when you settled things with your fists," Channer said.

"These guys don't care about you. If they think you have money and they can get it with a gun, they will. It's crazy out here."

The numbers back him up. Since the start of 2002, there have been 10 robberies at gunpoint near the gas station, seven more than at any other single street address in Hartford over the same period, according to Hartford police crime records.

Since the start of 2000, 949 Albany Ave. has seen at least 26 robberies, eight serious assaults, including five with a gun; a dozen stolen cars, more than a dozen other stolen cars recovered and one homicide. In October 2000, 16-year-old Todd Artis was shot nine times and killed in front of the gas station after getting into a drug-related dispute with a rival dealer, police said. The suburban drug buyers might report the crimes from pay telephones at the gas station address, which is perhaps one reason so many crimes have been recorded at 949 Albany, police said. But they typically give police little help in solving the crimes.

Like others who live or work there, Channer has horror stories about the corner. On a winter afternoon this year, he came home to find a crack addict sitting on his porch, puffing on a pipe.

Channer told the addict to leave, but the man refused. He matter-of-factly told Channer that he had been coming to the house long before Channer and his family bought it last summer.

Therefore, he had a right to smoke his crack on the porch.

"I couldn't believe what he was saying," Channer said.

The standoff continued for several minutes, Channer said, even after his mother, Lyneth Channer, called 911. As he approached the porch again, Seon Channer said, the addict suddenly stood up and pointed a knife at him.

Backing away, he realized this was a critical moment.

"If I back down, then all the crackheads in the neighborhood will know they can continue to come to our house and do as they please," he said.

"I have to let him know we ain't putting up with it, we ain't playin'."

So he said he pulled out a handgun he had recently purchased after obtaining a permit and passing a gun ownership class.

When the man came toward him, Channer said, he pointed the gun in the air and fired a warning shot. That sent the addict scurrying to the gas station, where he called 911 himself.

Channer said that officers didn't respond to his mother's call, but that several officers arrived within minutes of the addict's call. When his mother answered the door, he said, she found herself staring down the barrel of a police officer's rifle as other officers stormed past her. He said they charged him with reckless endangerment.

He said he was placed on two years of probation and his gun was confiscated. The crack addict wasn't charged.

"We learned a lot that day, my parents and I," Channer said ruefully.

"If we want to live here, we can't count on no one to help us, not the police, not the city. We're on our own."

What Next?

As he spoke, people could be seen walking across the family's dusty driveway - a popular spot for drug users and robbers lying in wait for victims.

"From the first day we got here, we had to fight them off," he said of drug dealers and users who once had free rein of the house.

"At night, you can hear them doing their business in the backyard while you're in bed. Sometimes, they still try to come in, even though they know we ain't puttin' up with it."

The Channer family's dream of homeownership - a dream that has driven them since they immigrated to Hartford from Jamaica in 1995 - is proving to be hard-won. Their home, which is more than 100 years old, needed a litany of urgent repairs, including a new heating system and roof patching.

But the biggest problem is the crime. From their porch, they often sit and watch as people stop at the gas station looking to buy drugs, usually crack. The buyers, most of them white, stand out in a neighborhood made up mostly of blacks.

Sometimes the transaction runs smoothly, and the buyers get back in their SUVs or high-priced sedans and drive off, the Channers said. Other times, the buyers are accosted and dragged to the rear of the parking lot, where the family has seen as many as five or six people carry out a beating or a robbery.

One night a few months ago, Lyneth Channer said, she looked out of her window and saw several police officers searching for a robbery suspect. After a half-hour or so, she said, her son went out to the porch and noticed something moving beneath a plastic construction tarp.

"It was the robber," she said.

"He had been hiding there. We were like, `My Lord, what next?'"

Fear Of Retaliation

While robberies and other drug-related crimes are prevalent, the Channers and others who live near the intersection said the gunfire doesn't seem as common as in other parts of the city.

A few blocks away on Adams Street, where the Channers lived until last summer, gunplay was almost a nightly event, Seon Channer said.

"People would get in a fight and then you'd hear the shots," he said.

"Here, you still hear the shots, but not as much. It's the robberies and other stuff that make it bad."

Some Hartford officers with years of experience patrolling Albany Avenue said the Sterling Street intersection did not strike them as any worse than others.

"It's bad, but so are a lot of other corners," said Officer Densil Samuda.

"We're doing the best we can, but right now, we don't have the manpower we'd like to handle the problem."

The department is training a class of 48 rookie officers who are paired with veteran officers in the field. By the end of the fall, they are expected to begin patrolling on their own, bringing the number of sworn officers close to the authorized strength of 420.

But many people who live or work near the corner say more police won't necessarily change anything.

"The police need to take more time to get to meet people and get connected with what's going on here," said Clarence Solomon, a bakery owner who lives on nearby Lenox Street.

"Right now, they just ride by in their cruisers. We don't know them and they don't know us."

Hartford police said they have conducted several drug investigations at or near the corner, especially on Cabot Street and Edgewood Street. Two years ago, a Hartford police undercover operation with the FBI and the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration led to the arrest of seven men considered to be kingpins in the drug trade on Edgewood.

But the vacuum created by their arrests was filled within weeks as other dealers moved in, residents say.

Despite the hardships, the Channers and other residents vow to fight. Lyneth Channer nurtures a garden of hosta plants in the front yard, even though they're constantly trampled by people walking through.

Her husband of 23 years, Gidion Channer, who works at his brother's Jamaican restaurant on Albany Avenue, recently had a large oak cut down at the side of the driveway. He said dealers often hid behind it when the cops chased people off Albany Avenue.

In his basement, Gidion Channer and his friends meet at least three nights a week to play dominoes, sometimes well into the next morning.

"I don't like the life out on the streets at night," he said. "I go downstairs and have a few drinks with my friends. It's more civilized."

Besides working at the restaurant, the family also makes money renting out the top two floors of their home. On one floor, a 30-year-old woman lives with her two children, a 3-year-old boy and 7-year-old girl, while studying to become a nurse.

The woman said she did not want her name printed out of fear of retaliation. But she said she regularly sees the robberies and drug dealing in the gas station parking lot and worries about the effect on her kids.

"I never let them out at night, or day for that matter," she said. "If they want to go outside, I'll drive them to a friend's house or over to the park."

One night this month, she pulled up in front of the house and let the kids out of the car as two men began fighting on the corner.

"Get inside," she said hurriedly to the kids.

When asked what the city could do to help families in situations like hers, she didn't hesitate to answer.

"Tell them to get serious," she said.

"Putting a bunch of cops on the street won't do anything if the cops won't get out of the cruiser.
They need to clean up the streets."

Gidion Channer said people at the corner are often reluctant to turn to police because it can place them in danger.

"If I call the cops about some drug dealers over there, the cops show up and tell them who made the call, and then they come after me," he said, pointing to a stretch of sidewalk across the street from the gas station where dealers hang out at night.

"You have to keep your head down and tend to your own business."

The above was found on the Hartford Courant website

Fair use of copyrighted material

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My favorite links

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Pictures of young, white adults brutalized by Hartford Connecticut Police

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My take:

If there was not separate and unequal service, and law enforcement’s main agenda was not revenue collection and asset confiscation from mostly average working people, our nation would be much better off.

Crime and criminals rise to whatever tolerable level of crime that is accepted by the public. Most criminals can be discouraged as youths at an overall saving to all taxpayers and would improve the general quality of life for all in this country, especially those that live, work, invest, and have an interest in downtown USA.

I received a prison sentence after pepper spraying the Connecticut State Police mascot, a drug using alcoholic, violent burglar, who demanded money from me after jumping me in my downtown driveway.

Par for the course, the attempted robber an alleged police informant was not even arrested. The ‘mascot’ is free to urinate publicly on downtown buildings, walk around daily drunk and high, pass out on sidewalks, and harass and threaten downtown property and business owners at will with police turning a blind eye.

The ‘Mascot’ is the preferred downtown resident, probably because the ruling class, the Corporate Elitists in the suburbs probably consider the ‘White Trash’ and minorities that live and work downtown, do not deserve any quality of life, nor do they deserve equal treatment and the protection and service from law enforcement, as they, the corporate elite, receive without question.

Those that know me keep asking me why I sound like a broken record.

Well, I am still estranged from my family, living hand to mouth and could have ended up homeless after working days, nights, and most weekends for 24 years and now have nothing to show for it. Can’t get the job I want or even volunteer for helping the cub scouts as I have a bogus criminal/prison record.

I can’t travel and wanted to go back to Europe to pursue import/export and my days are occupied with reporting to probation officers and going to Anger Management classes where I am being made to go to extra classes with no explanation.

A Somers, Connecticut man, who stole possibly over a $100,000 offering DVD players he had no intention of supplying and was selling bootleg porn bilking 100’s of people, a woman who violated a restraining order while on probation committing felony assault with a weapon, a youthful armed robber, and even a sex offender got off with probation, I have to live with the fact I went to prison for having resisted a robber with pepper spray, at my home, after he had terrorized me for weeks even waking my neighbors up after midnight when he was yelling he would cut off my penis if he caught me outside in my yard.

The police and my sentencing judge were aware that of this.

I was caught out on my yard unable to make it to my back door as I was taking a beating from the alleged police informant that had left me voicemails and threats I could not get heard at trial.

After he first assaulted me, Brian Caldwell again attacked me and threatened me inside the Arizona restaurant in Stafford Springs, CT, just weeks after the first incident with Connecticut State Police refusing to protect and serve me as I had criticized them for doing nothing about drugs and crime downtown and called them “Armed Revenue Collectors” in newspapers.

Another severe beating was prevented by the owner’s son in the 3rd incident of 7 reported to police involving Caldwell where nothing was done and Caldwell spit on the restaurant door, yelling profanities as he was ejected from the restaurant disturbing all the families dining.

Caldwell is the preferred downtown Connecticut citizen and I was ejected out of Connecticut by Connecticut State Police officers as they had allegedly bragged “Big Mouth” is going to be run out of town and taught a lesson before the Caldwell incidents.

I have had no other recourse other than being able to vent on

-Steven G. Erickson

P.S. I can’t find a lawyer willing to sue on contingency as I have no money for a retainer. If you are an interested lawyer please contact me

I think all should know that those that shoot up heroine, break into houses, commit fraud, neglect their children while out drugging and drinking, harass and attack those that live downtown are welcome in Connecticut and ‘Big Mouths’ who fix up boarded up houses are put in prison and then ejected out of the State.

I face up to 4 years back in prison for any violation of probation as I canspend my entire probation and remaining amount on my sentence in prison for the next 3 years.

Is a 2nd Offense of testing Free Speech worthy of another stint in theConstitution State or as I call it, "The People's Republik of Konnektikut?"


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