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article imageBreaking the code of silence and the stigma of 'snitches' Special

By KJ Mullins     Apr 9, 2012 in Crime
Toronto - When it comes to preventing crimes one of the most useful tools that police have is when citizens comes forward with information, breaking the code of silence.
Those citizen crime stoppers though face prejudice in their communities and with some members of the police though and are considered snitches.
In Toronto one strong community activist, Nicholas Maharaj, hates the term snitch.
"I refuse to call it snitching. Preventing a crime or suicide is making a difference, a positive thing. Snitching is not considered positive," Maharaj said during an interview.
Maharaj is a devoted volunteer with Crime Stoppers. He works tirelessly to get the message out that giving information about criminal acts or planned acts via Crime Stoppers is in the best interest of one's community making it safer.
Maharaj pointed out that the story of Kenneth Mark, a community hero who was gunned down December 29, 2009 after he refused to conform to the Code of Silence. Kenneth had cooperated with police after he was shot in the back in September 2008 informing them on who was involved. The incident had taken place when Kenneth had chased gang members away who were attempting to recruit youth. Kenneth not only gave the police information but testified at their trial.
That information lead to the arrest of Lamar Skeete and his brother. They were released from jail months later on December 17, 2009 when charges were withdrawn.
Twelve days later Lamar Skeete or someone he commissioned shot Kenneth in the back of the head.
Last month the family saw justice as Lamar Skeete was found guilty of Kenneth Mark's death. He will be sentenced next week and is facing an automatic life sentence of 25 years. The Mark family will read victim impact statements at the sentencing.
"The family is taking comfort that the justice system works," Maharaj said, "It's just so sad that for Kenneth Mark being a hero meant he had to die."
The Code of Silence can mean life and death to witnesses. They know that the criminals have no problem with murdering someone if they talk to police. Many who live in crime areas also fear how the police will treat them if they come forward.
"Retaliation isn't the right way but it's there. Doing the right thing in areas where the community is afraid of both the police and the criminals is hard. Many feel if they do talk to the police then they become a suspect themselves." Maharaj said that there is truth in that thought, "Some cops do look at those coming forward differently. They (the police) go back to those who are trying to make a difference when other crimes take place, targeting them as informants. This practice adds to the fear in the community of giving information to law enforcement. This misunderstanding can make a big difference when it comes to cooperating with the police."
One way that is safe to give information to the police though is through Crime Stoppers. Active in 28 countries Crime Stoppers does not give the police information about a witness but does provide the information about criminal activities that have taken place or are planned to take place.
"Using Crime Stoppers is not snitching, it's making a difference for your community," Maharaj stressed. "The whole key to Crime Stoppers is that your identity is protected."
Maharaj also talked about how the Code of Silence is an everyday factor in the lives of many students. That silence allows for the bullies to win, crimes to continue and a feel of hopelessness to reign.
"A lot of students are scared to talk. High school is hard. That Code of Silence is unspoken but its there," Maharaj said sadly, "The only way to make schools safe is by taking action. If you are scared to talk to some one in authority directly use Crime Stoppers. You can be the difference. If you save a live, just think about how great you will feel."
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