Prosecutors and judges say witness intimidation by youth gangs is jeopardizing the legal system in some cities in the way organized crime has often silenced witnesses, the New York Times reports. “Witness intimidation has become so pervasive that it is ruining the public’s faith in the criminal justice system to protect them,” said Judge John Glynn of Baltimore City Circuit Court. “We are not much better off than the legal system in Mexico or Colombia or some other sad places.”
The intimidation has gone hand in hand with a sharp increase in the number of street gangs, not just in traditional strongholds like Los Angeles and Chicago but also in affluent parts of Northern Virginia, as well as in Denver and in Raleigh-Durham, N.C. In New York City, hundreds of witnesses in court cases report being threatened every year, and at least 19 have been killed since 1980, according to law enforcement officials. FBI statistics show that while overall crime has stayed level or has fallen slightly in the past four years, juvenile gang homicides have jumped 25 percent since 2000. The trend has led the bureau to make a major switch in the past six months, making combating street gangs its top criminal priority.