Witnesses to crimes have civic responsibility to report them to police

July 28, 2011

It's more than a little bit disturbing that, on July 13, 2008, Tariq Alston was shot and killed in a fire hall in Joppa where about 100 people were at a party, yet no one has been charged in connection with the crime.

To conclude that there were no witnesses, would be foolish. To presume there aren't a dozen or more people who were at the party who know exactly what went down that night would be naive.

Yet no one has been arrested in the case, and it appears police won't be filing charges any time soon. The reason: a lack of community cooperation with police investigators.

This problem is a sad one for Harford County, but doesn't appear to be isolated. Police say more than just this one of seven unsolved killings in the past five years remain open because of a lack of cooperation on the part of witnesses and community members who are privy to potential leads.

Two key issues are at play in this socially-destructive trend. One is a lack of respect for civil society among the folks who aren't cooperating, and the other is a failure on the part of police to present themselves as protectors of civil society for all.

This isn't to say both sides are bad. To the contrary, there's every reason to believe both law enforcement and the communities most affected by the killings deeply want to see the crimes resolved.

Unfortunately, the stop snitching code that is the Baltimore area's contribution to destructive gangsta culture, holds a good deal of sway even among those who are law abiding.

And there is plenty of living memory of a time when police protection was only for certain parts of our society.

In short, it's a matter of trust, and trust is something that must be earned. Police must earn the trust of all the communities they serve. And people in any community affected by violence need to reject the anti-social cultures that both breed the violence then glorify keeping silent about it.

This, of course, is much easier to write down on paper than it is to do. Still, it's important because it could become a matter of life and death for any of us when no one is willing to come forward to bear true witness to a killing.

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