“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” — Martin Luther King Jr.
When 21-year-old Terrell Brumfield was shot to death at Parkway Gardens earlier this month, like so many other times, witnesses saw nothing.
We learn in childhood not to be a “tattletale.” Everyone remembers that one kid who would always run to tell his or her mom or your mom or the teacher about something you did. No one likes someone who rushes to tell every little thing.
The problem is the dislike and distaste for being a tattletale keeps kids silent when they should speak.
As we grow up, this inclination to mind our own business plays out in bystanders not intervening or walking right past assaults and fights and abuse.
On the streets, everyone knows that “snitches get stitches.” Snitches are the most despised inmates in a prison. They’re the ones who get put in protective custody even before child molesters. Gangs and thugs see their battles on the streets as between each other and neither side is supposed to involve the police. Scores are settled with street justice.
But even folks who aren’t involved in the street life have learned to look the other way and not get involved. The primary motivation is probably fear of retaliation. But there’s also that revulsion we have in our society against snitches.
Sammy “The Bull” Gravano is reviled more for testifying against John Gotti than for killing 19 people. When the Abu Ghraib scandal broke, many were more angry over the release of the photos than what they contained. Whether it’s Linda Tripp, Bradley Manning, Julian Assange or Edward Snowden, people who tell are often scorned.
Whistleblowers are heroes to some and derided by others. We have the most contempt for those who inform for a price, whether it is financial or a reduced sentence.
But the only way crimes are solved is with evidence and often that evidence is unlocked through the help of witnesses. If you witness a crime, it is your business. You have a moral obligation to tell authorities what you know. If knowing that it’s the right thing isn’t enough to motivate you, you have to look at the cost of doing nothing.
Staying silent could enable that perpetrator to victimize someone else.
I don’t think we should all be tattletales or hall monitors. No one wants to live in a society where every little thing is reported to authorities.
But when I’ve thought a child was being abused, I’ve called Child Protective Services.
When I heard a neighbor beating his wife, I called police.
When I saw someone break into a neighbor’s house, I called police.
I hope if my grandkids or nieces or nephews were being abused, people would call the authorities. If someone were assaulting my girlfriend or breaking into my house, I hope my neighbors will call police and tell what they know. That’s how the social contract is supposed to work.
Some say, “snitches get stitches.” I say silence enables violence. I’m not afraid of bearing witness. I’m afraid of what happens if I don’t. Peace.
Kelvin Wade is the author of “Morsels” Vols. I and II and lives in Fairfield. Email him at [email protected]