Friday, December 20, 2013

On the Road With Blumenthal

Some stories just make your brain pop.

U.S. Senator Dick Blumenthal was visiting with Gregory and Celeste Fulcher, whose daughter, Erika Robinson, 26, had been slain in a nightclub shooting by Adrian Bennett, 28, aka “Bread.”

Mr. “Bread,” Mr. Fulcher told Mr. Blumenthal, should not have had a gun, and he should not have been on parole: “It’s senseless, he shouldn’t have been out of jail walking the streets as a convicted felon.” Fulcher said of Mr. Bennett. “The system failed us, but I also blame the establishment.”

The “establishment” was the Key Club Cabaret in New Haven, no longer in business. Mr. Bennet is accused of having opened fire into a crowd of people at the club, killing Ms. Robinson and injuring five others. The “system” refers to the legislative, judicial and penology system in Connecticut, as well as a set of default assumptions that consigns the murders of African Americans living in cities to the dark recesses of our minds. What happens in the cities stays in the cities. Crimes outside urban areas in Connecticut quickly catch the attention of the media and politicians, but when an innocent young boy or girl is gunned down in the urban jungle, people nod their heads knowingly and quickly go about their business.

Such assumptions are salt rubbed into the open wound of the Fulchers.  This time, it was their daughter.

Mr. Blumenthal had mentioned Erika Robinson in a floor speech in the U.S. Senate. Good for him. The Fulchers deeply appreciated the notice. The familiarity with violent death in urban areas has bred in us a sort of contempt. It’s an uphill fight for the Fulchers. Forgive them, won’t you? They, like many a father and mother living on the outskirts of urban violence, expected their daughter would be safe. They, like the rest of us, live within the protective castellated walls of our reasonable expectations, one of which Mr. Fulcher stated eloquently in the New Haven Register story: “It’s senseless, he [Mr. “Bread”] shouldn’t have been out of jail walking the streets as a convicted felon.”

At Ms. Bennet’s funeral, a childhood friend of Ms. Robinson’s father, Brian Jenkins, delivered a citation from Connecticut’s General Assembly and then gave vent to long pent up feelings: “Black men need to stand up and be black. Fathers need to stand up and be fathers. We are the black men of the city and it is more than just taking out the garbage and painting the church…The church is filled with old people and the funeral home is filled with young people. I am sick of it.”

Mr. Blumenthal commiserated with the Fulchers. According to an account in the New Haven Register, “Blumenthal said one of the weaknesses in the judicial system is the failure to properly supervise or even confine people who are dangerous.

“‘Every human being, every person in the United States of America, is deserving of protection that our society failed to give to this young woman. It really goes beyond what happened in the bar, in a way it’s an indictment of the system.”

Mr. Blumenthal, for 20 years and more the Attorney General of Connecticut before he was installed in the U.S. Senate, is used to speaking in legalese: “indictment of the system.” It is difficult to break through the ice of such formulations and touch the marrow in the bones, but Mr. Jenkins came very close.

The family of Ibraham Ghazal is still living the Fulcher’s nightmare, months after a felon released early on a new Risk Reduction Earned Credits program developed by Governor Dannel Malloy’s undersecretary for criminal justice policy at the Office of Policy and Management, Michael Lawlor, illegally acquired a gun, entered an EZMart store in Meriden and shot to death co-owner of the store Ibrahim Ghazal after Mr. Ghazal had obligingly handed Frankie “The Razor” Resto the cash in his register.

Because they’ve been through the political process wringer, the Ghazals perhaps understand much better than Mr. Blumenthal the bumps in Connecticut’s justice system. Indeed, Mr. Blumenthal himself has long been a part of the system since 1977 when he was nominated by President Jimmy Carter as U.S. Attorney for the district of Connecticut. He was Attorney General for the state of Connecticut for more than 20 years before he became a U.S. Senator.

So, how did the Ghazal murder shake out? Frankie “The Razor” Resto was a violent criminal, well known to Connecticut prison guards, and he never should have been paroled or released early under Mr. Lawlor’s problem riddled program, which never received the scrutiny it deserved by the General Assembly before it was smuggled through in an omnibus implementer bill. The early release credits in Mr. Lawlor’s program were applied retroactively to prisoners who had not completed the program.

When leading Republicans in the General Assembly forced a belated public hearing and insisted that violent criminals should not be allowed to participate in Mr. Lawlor’s program, their objections were loftily ignored. After Connecticut Victim Advocate Michelle Cruz appeared in public to represent the interests of the Gahazals and began to point out the shortcomings of Mr. Lawlor’s Risk Reduction Earned Credits program, her job was put on the auction block. When a State Senator attempted to receive from Mr. Lawlor data that would show whether or not the early release program beneficially affected recidivism rates, he was given the run around. Neither the media nor the General Assembly has sufficiently examined closely the flaws in Mr. Lawlor’s defective program. All of these matters might have been brought to public notice during Frankie “The Razor” Resto’s murder trial. A public trial might have focused bright light on “the weaknesses in the judicial system” one of which, Mr. Blumenthal told the Fulcher, “is the failure to properly supervise or even confine people who are dangerous” – like “The Razor” and “Bread.”

But – lucky for the system – it will not be “indicted” in a public trial of Mr. Resto. At his own indictment hearing, Mr. Resto loudly proclaimed that he would reject any deal prosecutors would make, choosing instead to go to trial, but he later repented and decided to accept the deal offered to him by “the system” Mr. Blumenthal condemned in his conversation with the Fulner’s. Mr. Blumenthal  has never sat down to commiserate with the Gahazal family or former Victims Advocate Cruz or Republican legislators who have been unsuccessful in persuading the Malloy administration that violent felons such as rapists should not expect get-out-of-jail early credits from Mr. Lawlor. 

Concerning Mr. Resto, it appears that someone made him an offer he could not refuse: There will be no public displays of the serious fault lines in Mr. Lawlor’s defective Risk Reduction Earned Credits program. And thanks to Mr. Lawlor’s reticence, legislative monitors of the program will not be able to judge from the recidivism data he is reluctant to supply to inquiring state senators whether his brainchild actually reduces recidivism rates – which is, Mr. Lawlor has stated elsewhere, the underlining rational for his program.

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