No snitching’ code under fire
By CLAUDIA ROWE, P-I REPORTER
A downtown street crowded with onlookers. Ten shots fired into one man, who died at the scene. More shots fired into another, who was injured but survived. And among several dozen witnesses who saw the killing, not one would come forward to talk with police.
That scenario, from a Pioneer Square murder three years ago, has since played out dozens of times in Seattle homicides, allowing murderers to roam the streets with minimal fear of prosecution, police say.
But in the wake of a killing Monday, when Tyrone Love, a popular and widely known party promoter, was gunned down in the Central District, the “No Snitching” code of the streets may slowly begin to erode.
Residents who once held their tongues, resigned to avoiding involvement — and police — are now speaking out, enraged.
“If you witness a murder, you should tell somebody,” bellowed Chukundi Salisbury, a hip-hop DJ with gravitas on the streets among both law-abiders and those who cross the line. “That’s not snitching — it’s protecting your community. People know who these people are, so why aren’t we shunning them?”
In the Central District and South Seattle, the neighborhoods most affected by the recent rash of gang-related, black-on-black crime, a traditional mistrust of police has long thwarted law enforcement’s efforts to bring criminals to justice, allowing known killers to walk the streets with near-impunity. The Pioneer Square killer, for example, had been suspected in at least three other shootings. (He was finally convicted on the strength of a videotape — but not without considerable delay and frustration for investigators.)
“I cannot stress how much this no-snitching thing is getting people killed out there,” said a police source close to the Love case who spoke on condition of anonymity.
It has hindered investigations into the death of Pierre LaPointe, 15, who was killed last summer, Allen Joplin, 17, who was shot to death at a Belltown party in early 2008 and a host of other cases involving children — largely because the youths injured by collateral gunfire refuse to cooperate.
After 16-year-old Demario Clark was shot alongside Quincy Coleman last Halloween, he refused to speak with detectives, saying “he would not be a ‘snitch,’ ” according to court papers. Two other youths, both 15, also declined to cooperate, and the murder of Coleman, 15, remains unsolved.
“It’s serious, serious stuff,” said the police source. “And when you can’t even get the families to talk to you, you know it’s a real problem — these are their kids getting killed.”
Ian Goodhew, deputy chief of staff for the King County prosecutor, understands the fear that prevents witnesses from cooperating. But the fact is, their testimony can be key.
“We can’t guarantee everybody complete protection,” Goodhew said. “We try to help them out as best we can, but it’s getting them to come forward in the first place that’s the problem.”
The Love case, however, may begin to break that cycle. Dozens of friends and well-wishers have come forward since the 26-year-old Garfield graduate was killed on East Cherry Street, announcing that despite frictions with police and a culture of silence, they have had enough.
“I think this is a wake-up call,” said Terrell Peterson, who had known Love since their school days and often attended his hip-hop parties. “We all need to come together and stop this craziness. The violence is just not worth it.”
To onlookers wondering at the frequency of such shootings over the past 18 months, those sentiments may sound commonsensical, even trite. But they signify a distinct shift in perspective. Until Love’s death, individual community organizers might launch a march or a vigil or a rally to protest youth violence — the party promoter participated in several himself — but these were often sparsely attended and poorly publicized.