Looking into the "no snitch" mentality

9:18 AM, Sep 21, 2011   |    comments
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By Art Holliday

St. Louis (KSDK) - Reluctance to report crimes is a growing problem for law enforcement all over the country.

As NewsChannel 5 first mentioned yesterday on First @ Four, Art Holliday has been looking into the "no snitch" mentality.

Whether you blame it on gang culture, mistrust of law enforcement, or witnesses who are afraid. no snitching has created a roadblock to arrest and prosecute dangerous criminals.

"I don't even like the label 'snitching' because it's not what we're talking about here,"  said St. Louis Circuit Attorney Jennifer Joyce. "What we're talking about is standing up to influences that are harming your community." Joyce is referring to the "no snitch" mentality, a nationwide phenomenon that may be stronger than ever. Joyce routinely sees the public's unwillingness to cooperate with law enforcement. Whether you blame it on gang culture, mistrust of law enforcement, or witnesses who are afraid, "no snitching" has created a roadblock to arrest and prosecution of dangerous criminals.

"Time and again when I look at the numbers of cases we're not able to prosecute, the number one reason is always lack of involvement of a witness or someone who could assist law enforcement in solving that case." Joyce cites the recent shooting in the 4300 block of Lee where police say a number of people witnessed a boy get shot in the head, but no one is coming forward with information.

"We see it in a number of different scenarios," said Joyce. "We have people who are afraid to come forward. We have people who don't want to come forward because it's just not a cool thing to do, a cultural norm, if you will. We have people who don't want to come forward because they are involved in a similar lifestyle and they're going to take care of it themselves."

During the interview, Joyce cited other crimes where witness cooperation was a factor, including a man who was beaten in front of numerous witnesses.

"He was driving down the street with his young teenage son. He felt a bump and he thought he hit a child," said Joyce. "And he got out, and he hadn't hit the child, but there was a mob on the street that beat him terribly and left him unconscious, near death; he had brain injury. Numerous people up and down the block witnessed this happen. No one will cooperate. That's the kind of thing that just has to stop in our community and we have to make people see that that is not an honorable thing. That is not something that benefits us."

In 2007 Dr. Richard Frei from the Community College of Philadelphia began The Snitching Project. The on-going study is aimed at understanding people's attitudes about cooperating with authority figures including law enforcement officials. Dr. Frei and his students have surveyed over 3,000 people for The Snitching Project.

"The obvious repercussion is that crimes will occur in broad daylight with hundreds of witnesses and no one will feel comfortable coming forward," said Frei. "Depending on the neighborhood you live in, cooperating with the police could be considered a good thing or a bad thing. In many neighborhoods it would be considered a bad thing because you'd lose your reputation as being somebody you could trust."

Sultan Muhammad puts it a different way: "They stick to the G-Code. No snitching."

Muhammad is a former gang member who served 10 years in prison for first-degree robbery. Now the 36-year-old Muhammad runs Real Talk, Inc. where he counsels pre-teens about avoiding gangs and staying in school. Muhammad says even the youngsters he works with are aware of "no snitch" and the danger that comes with talking to police.

"A lot of kids wind up dead because guys who are actually responsible for perpetrating crimes feel that this young person could be a witness to the crime and they take their life," said Muhammad. "The way people in the hood see crime is not the same way people in an affluent community see it. It's like two different worlds. The fear factor is people that live in the hood that want the gang element to leave their neighborhood, but they're reluctant to cooperate with the police or witnesses that saw something take place because they've got to live in that neighborhood and it's almost like double jeopardy. If they tell the police they don't want that information to come back to them. Their lives, their families' lives will be in jeopardy. It's double jeopardy: damned if I do, damned if I don't."

St. Louis Circuit Attorney Jennifer Joyce was asked how to change people's minds about telling what they know about crimes.

"Everybody who's in a position to influence a young person needs to talk about this and needs to explain how being involved with law enforcement and getting dangerous criminals off the street is not a bad thing for the community. Most crimes are solved by people talking to law enforcement, not through CSI."

There were a number of Facebook comments about this topic. Lisa Burnett Robinson wrote: "The most recent incident, on the 4300 block of Lee, has caused me to re-think my position. There were many bystanders who saw the shooters and you can presume the shooters saw the bystanders too. Given the fact that this block has the "big brother" cameras specifically for documenting crimes, why should people endanger themselves and their families? I believe that those shooters were well-known for wreaking havoc on the neighborhood, so why not make use of the videotape and keep it moving? There's less collateral damage that way. P.S. The videotaped evidence is a lot more reliable than eyewitness testimony anyway."

Andelene Johnson wrote: "Too many of our communities are crumbling because of these crimes. Most people are too afraid to step up due to retaliation and lack of police protection. Even if you do come forward to help, you are treated like a criminal yourself. The police make the witness as scared and uncomfortable as the criminal."

Krissi Dierking Hollrah wrote: "I'd ask myself...what if the victim had been me or my family member? Wouldn't I want someone to come forward? And what are the perimeters (sic) of "accomplice " if you see something and don't report it? Aren't you helping them (criminal ) get away if you don't report what you witnessed?"

Pamela Patterson Dunn wrote: "I think this is a great question! Am I okay with it? No. Do I understand the dilemma? Yes. I believe we need to find out what the people need in order to feel safer telling the truth. We also need to be more proactive and find a way to change our culture from punishment and reward to the choice to be responsible."

On Wednesday we will get a different perspective on "no snitching", sometimes known as the G-code.


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