Crimes' victims need witnesses

Published May 31, 2007

Kurt Bryant is dead. By all accounts, his death is a great loss to his community. He owned a successful luxury car service, was happily married and worked with children and charities. In fact, he recently told his wife he planned to establish a play center for neighborhood children who have few other outlets to have fun. All of these good things ended in a senseless way Saturday night when a gunman walked up to Bryant's parked car and shot him. He died hours later at Bayfront Medical Center.

His was one of three murders in St. Petersburg over the Memorial Day weekend and one of 10 for the year. Bryant's killing, and thousands of others nationwide each year in predominantly black neighborhoods, confound the police because witnesses rarely step forward to tell what they know.

"When we don't have somebody willing to step up and do the right thing, it makes our job more difficult, " St. Petersburg Police Sgt. Mike Kovacsev, who heads the homicide unit, told the St. Petersburg Times.

A St. Petersburg police spokesman said the department does not know how many murders go unsolved each year because witnesses do not come forward. Officials in other cities, such as Newark, N.J., New York, Miami and Jacksonville, readily acknowledge that the lack of cooperation in black neighborhoods prevents investigators from solving murders and other crimes.

Talking to the police is referred to as "snitchin', " and to snitch is to break the celebrated street code of silence when the police are looking for a black suspect. An entire movement known as "Stop Snitchin', " complete with its own Web site of the same name, has caught fire in many cities. The site is must-reading for hip-hop devotees and others who hold deep suspicions of the police.

Each year, police officials say, an unknown number of people are killed because they snitch, and many potential witnesses back out of going to court out of fear of being harmed. Doubtless, the police have a long history of racist acts in black communities, but to allow violent crime to continue in one's community to express resentment of the police is a bad trade-off. When residents refuse to help the police, they give criminals carte blanche to degrade their quality of life.

Those who have information about Kurt Bryant's murder have an obligation to him, to his family and to the rest of the community to come forward and speak with the police.

Snitching is crime prevention and safer neighborhoods. It is bringing killers to justice. It is not selling out to the police.