Monday, April 30, 2007

Taking on the "Stop Snitchin'" campaign in Boston

The past few years in Boston saw the rise of a "Stop Snitchin'" campaign to discourage witnesses or informants from talking to the police. Some shops have taken advantage of this by selling shirts with the slogan on it. I got into a pretty heated argument about this with a friend a couple of years ago. He felt people should be discouraged from informing on drug dealers and users because our country's current drug laws are unfair. He also suggested that it is wrong that the informant often receives a lesser sentence than the person he reports, even if he has committed a bigger crime himself.

I argued that even if one were to accept that the drug laws are unfair, it would be impossible to limit the "Stop Snitchin'" campaign to that one area. Instead, I said, it was much more likely that people would also stop talking to the police about robberies, murders, and other crimes. As for the second argument, I agreed that huge disparities in sentencing were unfair but pointed out that there has to be some incentive for a criminal to talk to the police or it would never happen.

Boston has recently seen a rise in violent crime, with the police often unable to convince people to testify even in brutal murder cases where they know there were many witnesses. I'm bringing this up because today's Boston Globe talks about a bill designed to increase penalties for youths who threaten witnesses in criminal trials. From the article:

The bill, which is supported by several key lawmakers on Beacon Hill and Attorney General Martha Coakley, would add witness intimidation to the list of crimes that would subject 14- to 16-year-olds to prosecution as a "youthful offender," which strips them of most protections of juvenile court and subjects them to adult penalties. Currently, there are a handful of offenses in this category, including serious crimes committed with a gun, while murder automatically leads to prosecution as an adult.

"We arrest kids for intimidating a witness and they're back on the street the next day," said Paul Porter, police chief in Randolph, who has seen more young teens threatening witnesses in his city. "When nothing happens, the message to the witness is, 'Why did I bother telling the police?' The next time he's threatened, you think the [witness] is going to report it?"

What do you think?

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