Civic duty to help police
Two street gangsters were reluctant witnesses recently at a Juvenile Court hearing to decide whether an 18-year-old man should be tried as an adult on charges of fatally shooting a bystander in an attempt to shoot a gang member who had disrespected him.
The young men had to be arrested to get them into court and there was uncertainty about whether they would give testimony about what happened during the Sept. 19 shooting. Both feared for their safety if they testified.
As violent crime, much of it gang-related, ravages inner-city neighborhoods across the country, the issue of “snitching” has been a major concern. Law enforcement and criminal justice officials say efforts to get criminals off the streets are hindered by the reluctance of residents to cooperate with authorities.
Reporter Don Wade and photographer Mike Brown spent several months exploring Memphis’ growing gang culture, talking to members past and present, to people trying to help young men leave gangs, and to law enforcement.
Some people don’t snitch because it could subject them to deadly reprisal attacks. Others remain silent because of hostility toward police.
It is easy to say that citizens have the responsibility to help police catch criminals, but some empathy has to be shown for those who, if they cooperate with police, run the risk of having their homes riddled with bullets by a revenge-seeking assailant.
To their credit, the two witnesses forced to appear in Juvenile Court did testify.
Reprisal shootings between rival street gang members are not uncommon. That makes it understandable why the two witnesses at this hearing were reluctant to testify. Prosecutors are not blind to the danger and try to do what they can to protect witnesses, including pushing for longer sentences for defendants and others who try to intimidate witnesses.
Here is something to think about: If residents who have to live with violence are not willing to step up and help police, then the criminals win. The gun wielders will continue to terrorize neighborhoods, making it too dangerous to sit on a porch on a summer evening or play in a park.
-The Commercial Appeal, Memphis