IF THEY DON'T CARE about their own community, why should we?
That's a question you can imagine after another shooting in another black community gagged by the "stop-snitching" credo. But it's not exclusively a "black thang," according to Chuck Williams, director of Drexel's Center for the Prevention of School-Aged Violence. The shut-up-and-look-away culture is also found in other minority communities — plus some white precincts, such as Penn State, Enron and Tyco.
Some people do care, and do come forward. Others don't for various reasons, ranging from fear of retaliation to alienation from a system in which they feel like outsiders. Despite that, police tell me that "stop snitching" is not a solid wall. It's more like a picket fence.
There are two proven methods for slipping information between the slats of the fence, says police spokesman Lt. Ray Evers. One is through social media, such as the Police Department's website and Facebook page. The other is via traditional media. People will see something on TV or the newspaper, call the reporter with information and the reporter will share it with the cops.
I have to say it's not the media's role to act as an arm of the police, but when circumstances dictate, there is sensible cooperation.
"Stop snitching" is not solely a function of fear, says local NAACP head Jerry Mondesire.
Although "stop snitching" was once an attitude — Mondesire points to Philly's gang wars of the '70s — it has evolved into a lifestyle, a behavior that parents teach their young, he says with a mix of frustration and bewilderment.
Mondesire finds that even among the NAACP's Youth Council — future leaders who know the NAACP's history, values and programs — they say they don't believe in talking to police. "It's very depressing," he says.
This is not what I wanted to hear from the head of the NAACP. He's depressed. I'm despondent.
When fear, understandably, stops some people from coming forward openly, what stops them from placing an anonymous call, or putting a note in the mail to give cops a name, a lead?
"Stupidity, stupidity, stupidity," says Mondesire, adding that remaining silent today almost guarantees that you or one of yours will be a victim tomorrow. Last summer, a 2-year-old girl was shot in the stomach in South Philly. A $5,000 reward was raised, ads were run for six months in the Sunday Sun, and the NAACP was on the streets.
Anyone come forward? "Hell no!" spits Mondesire. A month ago, in Logan, another 2-year-old girl caught a bullet and the witness' lips are zipped despite a $10,000 reward. Babies gunned down and adults clam up. Unbelievable.
But fear isn't the only reason many inner-city residents won't help the police.
"They don't like cops, they don't like judges, they don't like D.A.s, they think they are all part of the system that colludes to oppress them," says Drexel's Williams. "It's like helping the slave master," in their simplistic view, he says. If that's the diagnosis, the prognosis is worse and the cure is elusive.
Mondesire believes that society has to get to these kids in school, in church, in rec centers, to plant seeds that cooperating with police is the right thing to do. He admits that this swings in the face of what their peers and parents tell them, plus what they get from their daily immersion in what Mondesire calls "idiotic," antisocial rap music.
Williams, who grew up in North Philly in foster care, thinks you have to invest something in the community first, almost as a gesture of good will. "If they felt more supported, more connected with the justice system," they might come forward, he says. They seem to be thinking, "Tell me how this will address my neighborhood at 25th and Diamond. Give me more and I'll tell you more."
Maybe that would work. Maybe not. But I can understand why people who live in civilized communities might want to wash their hands of those who have thrown in with the thugs.