In Wednesday's paper, I wrote about Sharletta Ambey, a West Philadelphia woman trying to raise her children in a world of "No Snitchin." In late July, her Wynnefield rowhouse was riddled with about 20 bullets while she was inside with her fiance, three young children and toddler grandchild. Police believe the attack was an attempt to keep her son, Anthony, 19, from testifying against the man who shot him earlier this year. Anthony wasn't home when his house was fired upon and no one was injured. He says he not going to testify.
The article got a lot of response from readers: most shared their frustration over the silence and fear that plagues neighborhoods and shared their concern for the safety of Ambey's children. Others wondered why we would even write about the attack: "Doesn't publicizing the family's situation just make them more of a target?" people asked.
Ambey wanted her story told. She is angry and fed up. She said that the people who want to harm her son already know where she lives -- they did shoot up her home -- and we took precautions to protect her privacy, especially her children's. We did not publish her street name, show photos of her children and were very careful how we used quotes and on what material we included. We wanted her story told, because it deserves to be, and because it tells us lot about how we are as a city. But we did not want to inflame her situation. This is real life. She was happy with the article, she said. Glad to see it all written down.
We live in a city without witnesses. Her family's story illustrates why - the uncompromising realities so many witnesses face: testify and face possible retailation for being a "snitch." Don't testify and the person who hurts you walks free and a piece of you - and the soul of the city - dies in the process. Why put yourself and your family in danger? Why not handle it yourself? Get a gun. It's a code that perpetuates violence. In this case, it devastating a family. God help us all if something happens to her little ones.
Wednesday, the District Attorney's Office stepped in and offered Ambey witness relocation - four months of temporary housing and moving costs. The family could be out of the neighborhood in days. Only thing, and this makes sense, of course, is once they left they couldn't go back.
Ambey turned the help down. She cried over her choice.
She has lived in her neighborhood her whole life. She raised seven kids in her home. She is close to paying off the mortgage. Her friends and family live nearby. She works in the neighborhood (as a gardener in Fairmount Park) and so does her fiance. It's all she knows. It's her world as damaged as it is. She may change her mind.
"We'll hang in there the best we can, I guess," she said. She is thinking of getting a gun permit.
Anthony has been living with out-of-state relatives. I visited him. It's many worlds away from the neighborhood where his family deals with the consequences of his actions.
He choose the corner boy world. He said the person who shot him did so over a beef stemming from drugs.
When he thought he was near death, when the detectives were at his bedside, he pointed to a photo of the person he said shot him.
When he recovered, and had to live again in the place where he was born, he denied his words. His scars remain, but his memory faded. He doesn't know who shot him, he said.
He's not going to testify. He wants people to know that.
"I'm not testifying," he said again and again. "Snitching is for punks."
"What good would it do anyway?" he wanted to know.
Listening to him, you got the feeling none of this was over.
He said he feels bad for his family.
"They don't deserve this, " he said.