In the Boston neighborhood of Dorchester, where Isaura Mendes’s son Bobby was murdered almost a decade ago, crime witnesses “are afraid to come forward,” Mendes told the Christian Science Monitor. The crime has never been solved. Experts blame intimidation by gangs. Technology has played a role, as gangs use everything from video cameras to cellphones to warn witnesses not to step forward. The money involved in the drug trade has raised the stakes for many gangs.
This “don’t tell” culture in many places has never been adequately addressed, beginning with bullying in elementary school and including widespread mistrust of police, says Carl Taylor, a criminologist at Michigan State University who witnessed intimidation firsthand growing up in Detroit in the 1960s. “You learn at a very early age that you’d better not tell,” he says, “you’d better not snitch.” In Boston, Suffolk County District Attorney Daniel Conley urges legislators to protect violent crime witnesses better and more harshly penalize those who threaten them. It has become a particular concern in Boston, whose 60 homicides this year have been attributed, in part, to gang activity.