AP NEWS

A tragedy that can’t become routine

December 20, 2018

In early 2012, the shooting death of 14-year-old Justin Thompson on a Bridgeport street snapped the city out of its winter stupor. Despite a steady stream of shootings, murders and general mayhem over the years, the fact that a child was this time the victim sparked waves of grief, protests and pledges to do better in a city long plagued by more than its share of societal ills.

A few years later, on Christmas Eve 2015, another 14-year-old, Luis Colon, was shot and killed on State Street in an incident that left a 17-year-old injured. Again, the city asked how this could happen. Forums on youth violence were organized, community leaders pleaded for an end to the killing, and city officials vowed to do all they could to stem the tide of reprisals.

It’s hard to see that much has changed.

Late Tuesday night, Clinton Howell, a 12-year-old boy, was shot and killed on Willow Street, a short walk from the Seaview Avenue site where Justin Thompson was slain. It follows the February stabbing death of 15-year-old Francine Nyanzanika in the city, as well as several other homicide victims under age 20 just this year.

And 2018 has been, by many standards, a relatively calm year in Bridgeport as homicides go.

Killings in Bridgeport have been a fact of life for as long as anyone can remember. After reaching record highs in the late ’80s and early ’90s, the murder rate has fallen, with somewhere between 10 and 25 homicides reported in the city most years for the last two decades.

As the murder rate has fallen, the city has been changing. There are new residents and nightspots downtown. Some chronically underserved neighborhoods are showing new signs of life.

Nationally, the murder rate has followed a similar pattern, with numbers reaching a peak about 25 years ago before beginning a sharp decline and then leveling off.

Yet nothing has served to stop the steady flow of violence that every year claims more young people. Improving statistics mean nothing to the families who have lost loved ones.

By any standard, the death of a 12-year-old is a shocking tragedy. The fact that he appears not to have been a target of his killers is no solace to those who grieve his loss.

Mayor Joe Ganim, like anyone is his position would, wants to stop the bloodshed. But history has shown that the occupant of the mayor’s office has little to do with levels of crime, campaign promises notwithstanding.

If there existed a solution to the violence that continues to haunt Bridgeport, it would by now have been put into effect. Increased police presence, harsher sentences, curfews — they all sound like good ideas, but few have been proven effective.

The only course of action is to once again ask that everyone — people in the city and outside, leaders and community members, parents and children — demand the killings stop, and continue the work toward finding a better way. Get involved in a young person’s life. Take the time to reach out.

This tragedy, the death of a 12-year-old boy, cannot be allowed to be seen as routine, as just something that happens in a place like Bridgeport.

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