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Survival 101: Thou Shalt Not Snitch

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opednews.com Headlined to H4 10/18/09

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Outside Fenger High School, a tribute to Derrion Albert, 16

Snitching can get you killed.

That much I understood growing up in the 'hood. In kindergarten, I was taught not be a tattletale. But to tell on bad guys, on the criminally minded, especially those who breathe bloody murder, is a more serious matter than being a little, tattling toddler.

Lately here, particularly in light of the senseless violence that continues to claim innocent lives in Chicago, I have heard the lambasting of the good people of terrorized neighborhoods for not readily coming forward with information on murders. I have seen some shaking their heads, shoulder shrugging, and essentially blaming those unwilling--at least reluctant--to tell, as being in some way complicit.

Some even seem roiled that someone might witness a murder and be reluctant to come forward to police. And, in fact, they convey the sense that those unwilling to be witnesses are somehow less human, less feeling and less willing to assume responsibility, less eager to play a role in helping turn their neighborhoods around.

In my experience of growing up in an impoverished Chicago community like those under siege, it boils down to an issue of trust. And many who live in the city's most murderous neighborhoods--who have also witnessed police and political corruption and a trail of broken promises--simply don't trust the authorities enough to come forward and by doing so, potentially laying their lives on the line.

It isn't that people don't want to tell. They do. And it isn't the case that they aren't concerned about their neighborhoods. They are. Nor is it simply a matter of fear, but the fact that to come forward is to risk everything, even in a world where "safety" is always relative.

In poor black neighborhoods, we have seen the revolving door of criminal justice. We have come to understand that there is a new breed of serial killer--young men who kill and kill and kill again. And we also know this: That when the feds seek witnesses in high-profile cases to bring down notorious mobsters and crime families, they at least have the good sense to offer witness protection. They understand what's at risk for those who come forward. They also recognize the compelling need to end the scourge of America's most dangerous.

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A native son of Chicago, John W. Fountain is an award-winning journalist, professor and author of the memoir, True Vine: A Young Black Man's Journey of Faith Hope and Clarity (Public Affairs, 2003), paperback March 2005. His essay, "The God Who (more...)
 

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