Witness Protection Summit
San Francisco leaders move
to rein in witness intimidation
Saint Mary's Cathedral hosted a Witness Protection Summit on Friday.
City officials and community leaders convened to address witness
By Daniel Powell
June 18, 2006
District Attorney Kamala Harris announced a new strategy to combat
what she says is a growing problem for law enforcement: reluctance
on the part of witnesses to "snitch" due to fears of
violent retaliation, and ostracism from their communities.
San Francisco District Attorney Kamala Harris
The announcement came after a Friday afternoon summit convened
by Harris in response to last month's slaying of Terrell Rollins,
22, a murder witness in the district attorney's witness protection
Approximately 50 representatives from city government, faith
and community organizations and law enforcement discussed a community-based
approach to overcoming the stigma of "snitching" and
fostering a sense of "witness empowerment" in crime-ridden
A T-Shirt aimed at intimidating witnesses
displayed by the District Attorney last
at Ella Hill Hutch Community Center.
"There is more that all of us can do," Harris said
after the meeting. "The only way that we get to a point of
solving a problem is first admitting there's a problem, and then
figuring out what our role is in fixing the problem."
During the closed to media meeting, San Francisco Police Commissioner
Joe Marshall detailed plans to send members of the Omega Boys
Club to speak to local church congregations. The club, which offers
educational support and gang prevention programs for at-risk youth,
was co-founded by Marshall in 1987.
San Francisco Police Commissioner Dr. Joe Marshall
Club members Walter Simon and Ameer Tate spoke bluntly after
the meeting about the need for citizens to take responsibility
for crime in their neighborhoods by cooperating with law enforcement.
"It's going to take the whole community to realize that
until we make it clear - that if we're not going to stand for
anything happening in our neighborhoods - that crime is going
to continue," Tate said.
Ameer Tate, left, with fellow Omega Boys Club member Walter Simon.
"It could be fatal," Simon said "But if we're
not willing to die for something we believe in, than what good
are our lives?"
Walter Simon joins effort to stem fear of reporting violence to
authorities. Standing with Simon, from left, are Gary Flowers,
director of policy for Rainbow Push; Allen Nance, director of
the Mayor's Office of Criminal Justice; Sheriff Chief Deputy A.
Waters, and Rev. Toni Dunbar, Chaplain, San Francisco Juvenile
A former gang member, Simon lost the use of his
legs when he was shot eight times at the corner of Fillmore and
Webster streets 13 years ago. Since joining the Omega Boys Club,
he has enrolled at Contra Costa College and has worked to clarify
the difference between "snitching," where a criminal
gives someone up to save his own skin, and "telling."
"Telling is a responsible citizen coming forth with evidence
of a crime that has been committed," he said.
District Attorney Harris didn't go into specific detail about
changes to her office's witness protection program other than
to say she was waiting for a vote from the Board of Supervisors
to approve funds for the hiring of seven new investigators.
She also stressed that the meeting was just the first step in
making citizens feel safer about coming forth as witnesses. "We
have a lot of problems that need to be fixed, we have limited
resources, but in any event, we have to start somewhere."
"It wasn't groundbreaking, but we broke the ice. We got
some communication going," Simon said. "It's going to
be a tough sell because we have it ingrained in our cerebral cortex,
'don't snitch or you'll get that jacket.'"