11/20/07

No witnesses to gang slaying of SEIU official

City Councilman Adam McFadden recently pledged to personally safeguard witnesses in the case of Latasha Shaw, the SEIU official whose stabbing death was seen by dozens, yet none of whom will speak to police.

Certainly, having politicians stand armed guard to protect witnesses is not a viable — or desirable — long-term practice. However, McFadden should be lauded for the broader example he is trying to set and confront the city's pervasive witness intimidation culture, even at the risk of some personal danger.

Studies indicate that witness intimidation is increasing nationally, with 88 percent of urban prosecutors calling it a "serious problem." In the Bronx, where I was a prosecutor, a study showed that 36 percent of witnesses had been threatened and 57 percent of the rest feared reprisals. Even the "no snitching" mentality is grounded more in fear than anti-police sentiment ("snitches get stitches.")

Some of my key moments as a prosecutor involved handling "scared silent" witnesses. In one case a defendant sprayed bullets at a crowd, and the only witness panicked before her testimony. Rejecting the police's suggestion that I wear a bulletproof vest — given the signal it sends — I went to her gang-ridden building to plead with her.

She agreed to come back to court, only to walk outside with me and be confronted with snarling glances. Luckily, she still testified. In another case, a woman was stabbed to death in front of a busy building. Although we repeatedly canvassed the area for witnesses, no one would help. Weeks later, a woman who had earlier claimed ignorance stepped forward and the killers were prosecuted. Her desire to help the victim's mother seek justice finally overcame her fear.

In contrast, I prosecuted the case of a gang member crack dealer. During trial, I got within inches of his face in order to illustrate a point (and hoping to provoke a reaction for the jury). Off the record, the defense counsel told me that the gang members eyeing me in the courtroom thought I had disrespected their colleague, and that I should get police protection. Given their willingness to stare down a prosecutor, it was no surprise that none of the many civilian witnesses in that case came forward. After the acquittal, one juror told me he couldn't convict based "just" on police witnesses. Weeks later, that defendant was a suspect in the shooting of a drug dealer who had taken over his corner. And so the cycle of violence is fueled.

At least metaphorically, many more should heed the example of McFadden and "stand guard" against a culture that stifles witnesses from coming forward. Without willing witnesses, the justice system cannot function. And neighborhoods already plagued by unresolved injustices sink further into bitter hopelessness.

(democratandchronicle.com)

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

We are reaching a point where these thugs have to be shot on sight. There will be mistakes and the innocent will be injured. But either we take back our country and allow decent people of all races to walk the streets or we become another Third World hell hole.

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