Spate of murders alarms city

Early Tuesday morning, 45 New Haven police officers and detectives raided dozens of locations across the predominantly black Dixwell and Newhallville neighborhoods. The operation was carefully planned: In the preceding days, New Haven police detectives met with agents from the Federal Bureau of Investigation to identify as many targets as possible.

The officers were determined to find the criminals who have murdered at least seven city residents since October — many of them execution-style, with a gunshot to the front or back of the head. The most recent murder occurred Jan. 3, when a 57 year-old man was found lying on a Newhallville street, shot in the head. He died later that day at a local hospital.

While crime throughout the city dropped 11 percent from 2008 to 2009, gun violence in the city’s black neighborhoods, such as Dixwell and Newhallville, did not. Of the 13 homicide victims in New Haven last year, 11 were black males killed by guns.

Leaders in New Haven’s predominantly black communities say seven of the eight murders in the last three months — all but the man stabbed outside Synergy nightclub on Crown Street in November — reflect a systemic problem with gun violence in the city’s neighborhoods.

Two community leaders said at a Board of Police Commissioners meeting Tuesday night that the murders have coincided with the releases of ex-felons from prison.

“We have felons leaving prison every week, and it appears in these recent cases, retaliation was the cause [of the murders],” Ward 22 Alderman Greg Morehead, who represents the Dixwell neighborhood, said. NHPD spokesman Joseph Avery said 25 ex-felons are released back into the city each week with little support for their reintegration.

“These black men are on a rampage,” black community leader and board member Bishop Theodore Brooks said at the Board of Police Commissioners meeting. “It’s put the police department and the city in a quandary. Everyone [in the community] knows what’s going on — head shots to the back, head shots to the front — but they are afraid to come forward and speak.”

Brooks wanted to know what the police are doing to stop the street warfare, and his comments struck a chord with Evelise Ribeiro, a board member whose relative was shot and killed last year.

New Haven Police Chief James Lewis said police are working on solving the problem and cited Tuesday’s raids as the largest part of the city’s aggressive strategy to stop the violence. The strategy involves identifying outstanding arrest warrants in violence-prone areas and using those warrants to search the areas for weapons and suspects.

Lewis said police have suspects or informants in all the seven recent murders and that the investigations are progressing, though more slowly than police would like. Lewis said he could not divulge the results of the searches or the details of other measures the police have taken because the investigations are ongoing.

The NHPD is also increasing traffic enforcement in the city’s high-crime areas in an effort to find illegal firearms and remove them from the streets, Lewis said. The hope is that by targeting all known criminal activity in the designated areas, police will find the murders’ perpetrators or obtain tips that lead to their arrests, Lewis added.

Meanwhile, as city law enforcement officials scramble to identify the murderers, city residents and community leaders are demanding aggressive action.

Local anti-violence organization the Brotherhood Leadership Summit, for example, met this month with Mayor John Destefano Jr. to discuss what more the city can do.

In December, more than 150 people attended a Board of Aldermen hearing the Brotherhood Leadership Summit helped to organize on violence in the black community. Speakers, including former New Haven Mayor John Daniels, blamed the increased gun violence on a variety of factors, including poverty, absent fathers and a lack of action on the part of government and the community.

Community activist Barbara Fair of People Against Injustice, a New Haven-based criminal-justice reform agency, said in a phone interview that the urban environment of poverty and helplessness in New Haven has been the cause of the violence.

“The environment that kids in these communities live in is one of despair, where there are no jobs and guns are as easy to buy as candy,” she said.

Police currently run several after-school programs to keep children off the streets and away from crime, funded by drug money that police seize, Lewis said. The city’s prison reentry initiative is funded by federal money, and recently, the federal government denied the city’s application for additional funds that would expand the program, said Amy Meek LAW ’09, the prison reentry program’s director.

If the violence continues at its present rate since October of about two murders per month, the city’s number of homicides will rise sharply after a 48 percent decrease last year. Since Lewis took his post in 2008, the department has implemented a more aggressive strategy for reducing crime known as “targeted activity policing.” The strategy involves officers making more traffic stops and arrests, and initiating more gun, drug and prostitution investigations. Police officials said the strategy was responsible for decreasing crime in New Haven.

“It takes clergy, families, businesses, all aspects of the community to truly rid all of our neighborhoods of violent activity,” said City spokeswoman Jessica Mayorga.

After 18 months at the head of the NHPD, Lewis will step down at the end of January.


  • Town/Ghetto

    I lived on the border between the ghetto and Yale (Elm and Howe Streets) when I attended Yale and have written several times in my blog at the anger Yale generates in the New Haven community.

    So, let me get this straight, now:

    We have an institution with a 17 BILLION (not million) dollar endowment, whose main plant is shaped like medieval palaces facing INWARD away from the community, and three blocks away in the Dixwell Avenue area we have a racial ghetto.

    Now, naivete of naivete, someone is surprised that the offensive architectural dichotomy (Yale’s palaces are like an upraised middle finger of an elite shoved in the face of the dispossessed) generates envy and crime?!

    And now, further shock, when the truth of Macbeth is verfied:Blood will have blood they say.

    Criminals released from prison (which is a a notoriously racist punishment mill) return to exact retribution on their informers.

    “I am in blood stepp’d in so far that to return were as tedious as to go o’er.”

    Yale will someday have students who are afraid to walk New Haven streets.

    I was myself mugged in the parking lot of St. Thomas Moore Church at night when I attended Yale 1976-80. My wallet was taken. It had one dollar in it.

    Paul Keane

  • anonymous

    I think the first poster totally missed the point of the article. Well, maybe not totally. Yes, there is some resentment in New Haven for Yale BUT Black men are killing THEMSELVES…they’re not running into the campus and shooting students. This highlights a very sad trend in the Black community of violence against one’s own–and yes, it puts Yalies in danger but AGAIN they are not the targets of these crimes. I hope I’ve been clear…

  • Disturbing

    ghet·to (gět’ō)
    n. pl. ghet·tos or ghet·toes

    A usually poor section of a city inhabited primarily by people of the same race, religion, or social background, often because of discrimination.

    # 2 My grandmother lived in New Haven’s ghetto on one side of the Green at Elm and State Streets for 20 years from 1940-65 in a third floor walk-up with no hot water.

    I lived in New Haven’s ghetto on the other side of the Green on Howe Street for 8 years from 1977-85 in an apartment building which had as part of its HUD charter that 80% of the residents must be classified as “poor”.

    The previous definition fits for both of us despite current politically correct censorship.

    UU has nothing to do with me.

    The intense anger in #2’s post and the wish that a human being might die are disturbing.


  • bjfair

    Crime in New Haven is not an African American “thing”. It also should not be framed as a problem primarily with formerly incarcerated returing home. Until we effectively address the persistent conditions of poverty, unemployment,lack of viable resources, hopelessness,community disconnect,indifference to life and the needs of others we are “spitting in the wind”. Statistics can say almost anything you like so I am amused when I read that overall crime dropped nearly 50% in New Haven under the current administration. It’s also amusing to hear that murders were down leaving the non critical thinkers to believe that gun violence has dropped. One might also believe that increased traffic stops had much to do with a drop in crime because 2 or 3 stops out of 300 led to a gun or drugs being seized. What’s interesting is that there are no stats on how many guns were traced back to their owners. In every incident there should be at least 2 people being arrested each time..the shooter and the provider of the gun. I have yet to see any stress placed on arresting gun providers. The state passed a law years ago that stated the when an incdient of gun violence occurs the gun is to be traced back to the owner and that person should have a record on file of a “stolen gun” or face a penalty which right now is the other laughable matter…a small fine. Much will need to be done to effectively curb gun violence. These raids and arrests led to what conclusion? Everyone wants a quik fix and claim success but the problem is multi layered and the approach to remedy must also be multi layered.We are not going to arrest our way out of this tragic problem no more than we can arrest our way out of drug use.

  • JE soph

    As long as they keep the gates to the colleges locked, we should remain safe if we don’t venture out, and will have no fear of getting robbed or killed.

  • Yale ’08

    Wow, #5’s post is hopefully sarcastic. Otherwise, I feel sorry (and embarrassed) for how insulated and sheltered Yalies have allowed themselves to become. Cities in the US, especially post-industrial ones, are a testament to the apartheid society we created before and since civil rights. A reminder to the romantics caught up in the illusions of an Obama presidency: we are NOT a post-racial country. The onus to remove this city’s blight is as much on the State of CT and the City of New Haven as it is on Yale University. But we can’t underscore enough the fact that it is primarily race-based. So much for the most industrialized, affluent ‘democracy’ in the world.

  • Yale ’08@#2


    Blacks are killing blacks and not targeting Yalies because to do so would mean their certain destruction. Yale and the City of New Haven, followed relentlessly by international media coverage, would scour the streets bare until the perpetrators were extricated and sentenced to death. What happens in the aftermath of black-on-black homicide? Relatively little in comparison. Such apartheid-style criminal justice reminds me of the Reagan years, when cocaine-snorting white yuppies received a fraction of the punishment served to poor black crackheads.

    What makes the American ghetto so ideal in the eyes of policymakers is its self-maintaining efficiency: the tendency of the imprisoned to turn on themselves before ever even thinking of unleashing on those who contribute (mostly indirectly) to their suffering.

  • Kai

    The problem is not just Yale, the municipalities make life very difficult for the poor. I have never been to a DMV that charges upwards of $180 to convert your license to the state (and I have lived in 13 other states) and that has the gall to provide such poor service (no seating, etc) and sell space to advertisers. Prices in the poor areas do not reflect their location. It’s really an assault on those of lower socioeconomic status and I can understand why they’re upset. Municipalities are unresponsive to me and I’m a comparatively wealthy Yalie with the time to spare in dealing with them. I can only imagine trying to deal with this lunacy while holding down a normal 40 hour/week job. When my trash can was stolen they refused to deliver a new one or pick up garbage in another container, their offices have strange hours (only in the middle of working days and often misposted) and they didn’t seem to care that I didn’t have a vehicle to move the giant receptacle. This place is a mess and you can bet that certain people get better treatment.