Witnesses' silence will only benefit criminals

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

The headlines in our area should be cause for concern or alarm. Higher than average crimes involving handguns in far too many towns within our region.

Sadly, most of the crimes have far too much in common - young men with illegal guns, too many drugs, too many family disputes and too many gangs.

But there's another common factor that is equally as troubling.

There's ample chatter of late concerning the lack of cooperation with police when a crime occurs.

In instance after instance after instance, not just in our area but across the nation, crimes have occurred in plain daylight in the view of witnesses but law enforcement officials say few if any witnesses are willing to step forward.

"Snitches get stitches" is a popular theme within some neighborhoods. And the sad reality is that police often face roadblocks because of this unspoken code of silence.

Once this passive behavior was isolated to urban centers. No longer.

And the truth is there is the stark reality that repercussions could befall those who cooperate with police.

Not many may remember the murder of Kitty Genovese on a dark night in New York back in the summer of 1964.

A serial killer named Winston Moseley stalked the 28-year-old woman and attacked her with a knife in the early morning hours.

By some accounts - later disputed - as many as 38 witnesses saw or heard a commotion yet no one responded to the young girl's cries for help.

One man saw what he thought was a struggle, yelled to the assailant and then went back to bed. The assailant Moseley fled into an alleyway only to return moments later and continue his assault.

New York police later said many less than the reported 38 heard or saw something. But they acknowledged that there were indeed neighbors who witnessed the assault but either felt helpless or were reluctant to get involved.

Psychologists use the phrase "bystander effect" to describe the reluctance of anyone to get involved.

I mention the Genovese murder only because Winston Moseley died recently still in prison after 52 years. During his trial, Moseley confessed to two other murders, several rapes and assorted crimes.

Though today's silence perhaps does not match the apparent callous disregard of the New York residents on that hot summer night, the lack of cooperation is similar.

There currently is a national dialogue on law enforcement and the use of force. But that same national dialogue also should deal with the silence from those who have information that would be helpful to police.

Until all communities view police as part of the solution and not the problem, crime that should be solved will remain unsolved. And the criminal element will strike again.

In the end, criminals prevail and we sink into a lawless society where no one is safe.

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