Looking young people in the eye and building relationships of value with them. Keeping the schools open until midnight. More lights, cameras, and cops.
Those are some ideas for saving the lives of young people like Javier Martinez.
But how about bringing back those old emergency call boxes too?
Those ideas to reduce street violence and to connect to young people were offered, along with the condolences of an entire community, at a community meeting animated by the memory of Javier Martinez Thursday night.
More than 50 people—the Martinez family, a half dozen alders, cops, Common Ground High School teachers and students, and neighbors from Fair Haven Heights and the Quinnipiac Meadows/Bishop Woods neighborhood—filled the library of the Ross/Woodward School for the gathering.
The much loved Common Ground High School senior was repeatedly shot and killed on Dec. 28, his body left at the corner of Russell Street and Hemingway Avenue.
As the bereaved family sat in the center of the assembly with memorial T-shirts and buttons, attendees offered a wide range of ideas on how to reduce violence.
“We shouldn’t have to come together because of tragic events. We have the police but we don’t have [enough] support for our children,” said newly elected Quinnipiac Meadows/Bishop Woods Alder Richard Spears. He said he had scheduled the meeting before Javier’s death and in response to other violent episodes in the area, then reached out to the Martinez family to attend.
A wide-ranging discussion ensued about what steps to take to knit together the community and keep the young people busy, loved, and therefore less prone to committing violent acts, such as those that ended Javier Martinez’s life.
They included suggestions to hire 75 more cops; activate and expand block watches and tie them to the new walking beat cops; increase the number of outreach workers; improve parenting at an early age; find the resources to open the schools to basketball and other activities.
The meeting was full of barely held back tears as people shared not only ideas but grief. Halfway through, one of Javier’s many cousins in attendance spoke up.
“What about the blue [emergency] phones like they have at Yale to call if kids can’t get to a phone, and help police get there faster?” proposed Jackelene Carrasquillo, Javier’s second cousin (pictured).
Her suggestion was met with applause. “When you’re in trouble, your natural reaction is to run,” not take your phone out of your pocket, she continued. “Javier, my cousin, had a phone. A lot of kids who are robbed” don’t.
East Side top cop Sgt. Vincent Anastasio listened patiently, expressed his grief to the family and his commitment to find the killers.
As to the phone boxes, he said “cell phone is the way to go today” in general for people to communicate with him and his officers. He suggested the call box might be a good idea on a well-traveled stretch like Route 80.
Carrasquillo and others in the audience did not find that sufficient. The emergency phones, where the touch of a button could get you help, should not be in well lit, but in poorly lit places, such as where Javier Martinez lost his life, they argued.
The availability of the emergency phone would also maybe reduce the problem of snitching, with information conveyed quickly, anonymously, Carrasquillo added,
“We used to have call boxes on telephone poles,” said Anastasio’s night supervisor for the district, Sgt. Marco Francia. “They were phased out, they outlived their usefulness.”
Francia seized the opportunity to add, as did other speakers, that the best anti-crime weapons are not new or old devices, but human beings.
“You’re the best crime fighters. You’re 40, 50 people come to another meeting and each of you bring five more. We can help to an extent, but you’re the crime fighting tool,” Francia said.
In the end, both sergeants called Carrasquillo’s call-box idea worth exploring, particularly at what Francia called “peak locations” and perhaps on the grounds of housing authority developments to start.
Towards the end of the meeting Sen. Blumenthal’s representative, former Alder Joey Rodriguez, huddled with Carrasquillo to see if federal dollars might be found to advance her idea.
After everyone had spoken, Martinez’s grandmother, Sonia, said she’d like to see not new programs, but more lights, especially where Javier lost his life. “More lights, cameras, and police where Javier was murdered,” she said.
“We won’t rest until we find out what happened. We’ll give it 120 percent,” said Sgt. Anastasio. Walking beats have returned to the area in recent years. The area is also flooded with those investigating Javier’s killing, although you might not recognize the officers, many of whom are in plain clothes, he added.
“There are 25 to 30 cops out here. We need the community to help us,” he said.
“We’re at the beginning stages” of the investigation, added Sgt. Robert Lawlor, who is heading up the effort.
“We do have a pretty good idea of what happened that night,” he said. “I believe we’re on the right track and we’ll have a successful outcome.”