- Associated Press - Thursday, May 28, 2015

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) - Hartford is dealing with a spike in violence that has included five homicides in two weeks and the brazen drive-by shooting of a city minister outside his church.

Mayor Pedro Segarra said he plans to meet with clergy, community leaders and others Friday to discuss what more can be done to address the violence, which comes after several years of declining violent-crime rates in the city.

“We’re going through a really bad week, and we can’t let a few individuals undo the progress that we’ve had over the past several years,” Segarra said. “Every time we lose a young person to violence it really tears our families and hurts our community.”

The latest victims were a 23-year-old who was shot several times late Tuesday outside a bodega the city’s South End, and a man who was fatally stabbed in a liquor store Wednesday night.

The Rev. Augustus Sealy was planting American flags along the sidewalk outside his church, the First Church of the Nazarene, when he was hit by the gunfire on Sunday. Ten minutes later another man was shot and wounded across town by shots fired from what police believe was the same car. Police said Thursday the two shootings are linked.

Jim Le, who owns a car repair shop across the street from Sealy’s church and less than a mile from the Capitol building, said he and others are frightened.

“I’ve been here since 1997, and I’ve never seen this before,” Le said. “In the past two weeks, there’s been a lot of shootings, a lot of killings. It’s kind of scary now.”

Hartford, which reported 19 homicides in 2014, already has had a dozen this year.

Police say unlike the 1990s, when gang violence was rampant and there were several years with more than 30 homicides (55 in 1994), no single factor can be pinpointed for the recent outbreak.

Police said the stabbing was the result of a dispute over a woman, and the fatal shooting the result of an ongoing dispute between two men. The shooting of Rev. Sealey remains unsolved.

“Many of these shootings involve young men in poverty who don’t have jobs and are settling minor disputes with guns,” said Deputy Police Chief Brian Foley.

Hartford has been making progress in recent years, Segarra said. Homicides have been steadily declining, down from 33 in 2009.

The city council this week passed a budget that includes $1.2 million for a summer youth employment program in which the city works with local companies to hire Hartford teens. Another $250,000 was allocated to create a federal “Promise Zone” in the North End, designed to help steer federal money to local education and jobs programs.

Hartford also has started a citywide youth athletics program and built two turf baseball fields for youth.

“We’re not going to arrest our way out of this problem,” Segarra said.

Rev. A.J. Johnson, of the city’s Urban Hope Refuge church, said it also is important to spread the message that police and government can’t solve the problem.

“This is going to have to be a groundswell,” he said. “Police can’t be everywhere. Everyone needs to be accountable. We’re sick of this.”

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