Chris Powell: Behind the brawls at the malls


You can observe a lot just by watching, Yogi Berra said. Maybe that's possible even with local television news in Connecticut, though it's usually trivial.

For the other day WFSB-TV3 broadcast two touching stories whose details hinted at much bigger issues.

The first was about a Christmas dinner for the down-and-out in Hartford sponsored by a charitable organization, Hands On Hartford. In addition to dinner, guests received gifts -- hats, mittens, and socks -- that seemed to anticipate cold days on the street. The guests were grateful, though those interviewed, as is typical with the very poor, were missing many teeth, so feeding themselves may not be easy even when it's free.

The second story was about three sisters in Meriden who are caring for their mother because she has been diagnosed with terminal cancer. The sisters are preparing the family home for sale in the hope of raising money to get their mom admitted to a leading cancer hospital in New York, since her insurance won't cover it.

Lacking teeth no longer has to be a permanent handicap. Nor is the worst cancer case necessarily a death sentence anymore. Dental implants and cancer treatments just cost more money or more insurance than many people have. Meanwhile, the federal government still spends billions of dollars every month on stupid and futile imperial wars, and last week state government began spending another $5 million in the name of preserving open space, though Connecticut's population long has been stagnant and open space is preserving itself.

That is, these days government has money for everything except what people need most. So maybe elected officials should pay more attention to local TV news when they're not the ones being covered.

But elected officials aren't likely to notice missing teeth and lousy medical insurance when they don't notice the social disintegration exploding all around them.

Last week, while outgoing Gov. Dannel Malloy and his aides congratulated themselves on what they claim is a reduction of crime in the state, hundreds of young people brawled at shopping malls in Manchester and Milford; a 12-year-old boy was shot to death in Bridgeport by an 18-year-old illegal immigrant during a gang war in which several other youths were shot but survived; two men were shot, one fatally, in Hartford, where shootings have risen this year; and the decline in the state's prison population being touted by the governor continued to correspond ironically with a growing number of arrests of offenders with long records whose avoidance of prison despite their incorrigibility is nothing to cheer.

Bridgeport City Councilor Ernie Newton, a chronic offender himself, responded to the 12-year-old's murder by proposing that police be authorized to stop and frisk anyone who looks suspicious. Newton withdrew the idea when he was reminded that this would violate constitutional rights and inflame racial tensions, especially when most officers are white and most city residents are not.

But one of the activists who scolded Newton was just as oblivious. She told the Connecticut Post that instead of "stop and frisk" Bridgeport needs "youth programs" and "a huge increase in therapists and counselors in schools."

No, Bridgeport and Connecticut need elected officials who dare to address the causes of problems rather their symptoms and ask where all the messed-up kids are coming from, why so many kids don't have parents anymore, and how public policy may be causing this.

Chris Powell is a columnist for the Journal Inquirer, in Manchester, Conn.