African Americans must start snitching


Published: Thursday, November 1, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, October 31, 2007 at 7:12 p.m.

Cedric "C.J." Mills. Isaiah Brooks. Tedric Maynor. Felicia Hines. Vinson Phillips. Kurt Anthony Bryant. Amuel Murph. Alfonso Williams.

These names are forever inscribed on my private "Wall of Black Death." My wall contains the names of black people killed by other black people, along with those believed to have been killed by fellow blacks, in the Tampa Bay area since May.

I will update the roster as new deaths are reported. More are sure to follow.

I do not have answers as to how to stop blacks from killing their brethren. But I do have an answer for catching some, if not all, of these murderers.

Snitch.

Nationwide, however, too many blacks refuse to help the police identify, find and arrest killers in their communities.

To enjoy a decent quality of life in their communities, blacks must begin to help the police. Studies show that homicides, especially unsolved homicides, destabilize low-income communities. Needless to say, many of the nation's black communities have individuals and families with low incomes.

Businesses that can provide jobs for unemployed residents and provide the amenities that other areas take for granted are wary of locating in black communities where homicide rates are high.

A recent St. Petersburg Times article reported that a group of Tampa black residents have organized an effort to stop the "don't snitch" culture that permits killers to remain free. Many of the organizers are related in some way to a youngster killed by a fellow black.

Consider this sobering portrait of blacks and homicide and other serious crimes from a recent U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics report: Although blacks comprised only 13 percent of the population in 2005, they were victims of about 49 percent of all homicides.

The bureau estimated that 16,400 murders occurred in the United States in 2005. Of that number, 8,000 victims were black, 93 percent of those victims were killed by other blacks and 77 percent of those murders involved firearms. Most black victims were between ages 17 to 29.

Many people, including police officials I have spoken with, say that fear prevents most blacks from snitching. I agree that some residents remain silent out of fear, but I suspect that the fear factor receives too much weight.

I have come to believe that an untold number of blacks have grown as insensitive to black-on-black murders as they have to other black-on-black crimes. For one thing, the high number of homicides in their communities have made many blacks inured to all but the most sensational killings that receive a lot of press.

"I expect somebody to shoot somebody every week around here," a St. Petersburg woman who lives in a predominantly black neighborhood said a few weeks ago when I asked if she had known a man who had been killed recently. "I don't go near my windows at night. They shoot guns around here all the time. I don't pay attention when they say somebody got shot. I just try to make sure it won't be me one of these days."

I am not a sociologist, but I suspect that many blacks in high-crime communities have all the symptoms of the abused person syndrome: We have been cruel toward one another for so long we have internalized the belief that such cruelty is normal. Those of us who have internalized the cruelty think nothing of treating other blacks likewise, thus perpetuating the cycle without apparent end.

Each day I open the newspaper and switch on TV news, I brace myself for yet another murder. With each killing, I feel sadness, regret, helplessness, anger and shame - shame of being associated with such people in any way.

Because I regularly write about this issue, I receive a lot of hate mail from both whites and blacks. White letter-writers remind me that blacks are "animals" and "cause all of America's social problems." Black letter-writers see me as the "enemy of people" and a "sell-out" because I condemn blacks for killing one another without taking into account the nation's history of racism.

To whites, I have nothing to say. To blacks, I have one message: We need to start snitching. Only we can stop black-on-black murders. Until then, I will be adding names to the Wall of Black Death.

Bill Maxwell is an editorial writer/columnist for the St. Petersburg Times.

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