A perverse code of honor

Our view: Mean streets' 'Stop Snitching' campaigns put a generation of young people at risk

October 16, 2008

Most outsiders know little about the violent world in which Howard Grant Jr. and his cousin, Justin Berry, lived and died.

Mr. Grant, 18, and Mr. Berry, 19, were gunned down Sunday by unknown assailants as they walked near their West Baltimore home. Both had survived shootings in recent months that prompted police to urge they enter the city's witness protection program. Each time they refused, and finally their luck ran out.

Neither teen had a serious criminal record, and Mr. Berry even seemed to be trying to turn his life around through his efforts to attend Morgan State University to play football. But they let themselves get caught up in the shady intrigues and criminal vendettas of a tough neighborhood, even after it was clear they were in over their heads. They were apparently unwilling to reject the harsh code of the streets that labels cooperating with police unmanly. Ultimately, their decision to not accept protection led to their undoing.

The death of any young person is sad because so much potential seems wasted. It's easy to say in hindsight these young men should have been in school rather than on the streets, but that won't bring them back to life. It's easy to say communities racked by violence should cooperate with the police, but that won't heal the wounds of grieving families. Life is always more complicated than that. Many people were shocked by the appearance a few years ago of the infamous Stop Snitching videos that seemed to make a virtue of thwarting the police's efforts to catch criminals. Mr. Grant and Mr. Berry, like thousands of restless young men in Baltimore, apparently bought into that perverse ethic, andthey paid for it with their lives. To challenge the culture that leads to such tragedies, neighborhood residents must find the will and courage to end this deadly code of silence.

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