Group Aims to Put to Rest the Fear of 'Snitching'

By Michael Birnbaum
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, July 20, 2008

The anti-violence group Peaceoholics had planned a mock burial of the "myths of snitching" yesterday, encouraging District residents to come forward when they saw crime in their midst. Little did the group know that there would be an extraordinary spate of shootings and stabbings the night before, as if to underline their message.

"We have an epidemic in our community right now where people think coming forward to the police is a problem," Ronald L. Moten, co-founder of the organization, told the 50 people assembled at Pilgrim AME Church on 17th Street NE. "We should all be safe in our community."

Moten led the group in a mock burial, complete with a shiny, white coffin, of the fears of retribution and the prejudices against "snitching" that lead many people not to speak out against violence.

The violence of the previous night, which left at least 11 people injured and two dead, was at the fore of people's minds at the demonstration.

"If we don't come together today and say that we're tired of 13-year-olds being hit by stray bullets . . . then it's never going to stop," Moten said.

Kenny Barnes, the head of a D.C. anti-violence organization called ROOT Inc., said that after the murder of his son in 2001, several people came forward with the name of the killer. Barnes turned the killer in to the police.

"We all know that when there's a murder in the community, we all know who did it," Barnes said. "A murderer is someone to be feared but not someone to be respected. . . . I know it in my heart and my mind that I saved somebody's life."

Some speakers chastised the community, saying that it accepted crime.

"We have created an atmosphere of tolerance" of crime, said Amin Muslim, who works in the office of D.C. Council member Yvette M. Alexander (D-Ward 7). Muslim said he was awakened with a 4 a.m. phone call to tell him two people had been shot near where he lived.

"If we continue to accept the rule of thumb that we should not stand up for our communities," Muslim said, "then we should not complain about it."

Attendees threw colorful placards symbolizing community ills into the coffin, which was then closed and taken by hearse to the Joseph H. Cole Fitness Center in Trinidad. There, in a grassy field behind the center, attendees prayed and expressed hope that the "myths of snitching" would stay inside the coffin.

Moten was skeptical that the checkpoints that started again last night would be helpful in the long term.

"It's going to take the community" to bring about change, Moten said. "Not somebody off a U.F.O. beaming down like they're going to solve someone else's problems."

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