Friday, October 3, 2008

Major League Barbershop A Victim of Circumstance

Melissa Ponzio, the Hartford Courant's "iTown host" for Middletown/Shoreline posted an interesting take on the Williams Street shooting on her blog. She decided to talk to the owner of Major League Barbershop to find out what he knew about the shooting. It was a simple idea, but great journalistic instinct. I decided to follow up.

Vernon McDaniel, who owns the shop is upset about how his shop has been portrayed in the press. "I'm a young black man running a small business, and people get the wrong idea," he said. "The man who was shot was outside smoking a cigarette. He walked in here, and I asked, 'What happened?' and he said 'I got shot.' He was bleeding." Then indicating one of his employees, McDaniel added, "Ernesto here probably saved his life by stopping the bleeding."

The shooting on William Street does not seem to have had an immediate effect on McDaniel's business. At 7:15 a.m. when I walked by the business on a morning walk, there was a man waiting for the shop to open. When I walked by again at 8:00 a.m. the three barber chairs were filled and there were two people waiting. When I returned at 9:45 to speak with McDaniel, the barber chairs were still filled and there were four customers waiting.

When I indicated that it seemed busy, McDaniels turned to one of his fellow barbers and said, "Ernesto, he thinks this is busy." At that point, everyone in the shop laughed.

"I've got a good business," McDaniels admitted. "I'm busy every day that I'm open. But we got kids who come here. I don't want parents to worry. And we have a lot of Wesleyan students who come in, and I don't want them to think it's unsafe, because it's not."

Like many African-American barber shops, MLB is a gathering place, and a focal point of the community.

"Everyone comes in here. They got a problem, they come in here to talk. We've had community forums here. We've registered voters here. I let the local kids sweep up so they can make a few bucks. Believe me, I know what's going on in this community," McDaniels said. "But kids who come in here to work have to show respect. They better have good marks, or they can't work here."

"I just wish the newspapers and television would get it straight. One place was even saying Anthony Hall was killed here. That happened outside another barber shop in another part of town."

Yesterday, according to the Middletown Press, the police identified the victim of the shooting as 25 year old D'Shaun Watson, brother of Tyrese Lockheart who was the target of shooters who did open fire in MLB in June of 2005. Lockheart was later killed at Cocktails on the Green, a Cromwell club in February of this year.

Today, as I spoke with McDaniels, Middletown Police detectives were raking through flower beds outside the shop searching for evidence.

"I just want to give haircuts, and succeed," said McDaniels who has been cutting hair since he was thirteen. "These shootings have nothing to do with my shop."

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