Code of silence, an unwritten rule

JACKSON COUNTY, MS (WLOX) - Imagine having your loved one shot to death, assaulted or robbed with dozens of people around and yet no one says a word to police.

It's sad to say, quite often the very information officers need to help catch criminals is not coming from the people they're charged to protect every day.

But why? It's called the code of silence, and for some people living in crime infested or poverty stricken neighborhoods it is an unwritten rule, you don't cooperate with the police if you don't want to get hurt or labeled "a snitch."

I hit the streets to find out why this destructive behavior is so accepted and what "police are doing to break the code of silence.

Jackson County, MS is a place where you will find everything from big industry to a good Southern meal.

But on the other side of the fence, you'll find some people living in not so safe neighborhoods confined by tough rules of the street.

"Keep mouth close and your ears open," a guy said about the rules of the street.

Folks on the streets said there is a word for people who talk.

"Snitches get stitches," said one man.

"If you snitching man, people will come get ya man, so you don't want to get caught snitching," a young man said about dangers of the streets.

The people who run these streets have erected walls of intimidation and these walls divided the community from police.

Here is what one lady and her friend in Moss Point had to say about the police.

"I don't like none of them and I don't give a care about them," said one of the women. "They will kill black folks; if you talk against the police they will kill you."

"Real talk, if we see something going on we ain't really going to go to the police or nothing," the women said.

Fear retaliation or losing their street creditably keeps others on these streets silent.

"I ain't running my mouth, and it will be disrespect between me and my set too. A set is like a gang," a teenager said.

"They will do whatever it takes to make sure you don't open your mouth. Yes, the code of silence, keep your mouth shut, but it is a fear tactic. They don't want to run their mouth because they don't want to get hurt," another person said.

Real talk from real people who live by the code of silence.

Moss Point Police Chief Keith Davis has been on the job less than six months and knows how challenging it is to get people to speak up about a crime

He said looking through reports of past homicides; there have been at least three murders in three years that could have been solved if people had helped.

"You can't look at it as it is not me, it is not my business, cause next time it could very well be your business," Chief Davis said.

Police said now driving around in cars, patrolling the area just won't cut it anymore. Some departments in Jackson County have been making a special effort to connect them with the public.

Police are spending money on everything from more manpower to the look of the new police cars.

"We have to get people to buy into what we are trying to get accomplished here in Moss Point, Jackson County, Harrison County, all along this state," Chief Davis said.

"If you talk to people and they say, 'I don't want to get involved because I don't want to be labeled a snitch' then we have not done enough. If you talk to people who say, 'I am afraid for my family,' we have not done enough," Chief Davis added.

Over in the City of Gautier Police have been working hard to break the code of silence.

They hired a new crime prevention officer to help target communities where there have been dozens of random shootings, including one by a crowded ballpark.

"There is always going to be crime all the time, but my job is to reduce the victims," Crime Prevention Officer Diane Schmid said. "If we make ourselves less of a target then the criminal will have to go somewhere else."

Police said as more crimes are committed, they need people to step up and witnesses to come forward. But it won't be easy.

"I ain't telling no police, I ain't going to no police," a Moss Point teenager said.

"This didn't just start in this community this goes all the way back to the mafia that you just don't talk to the police," another person added.

Gautier's Police Department said it has been making great strides in forming neighborhood watch programs all over the city to help combat crime.

Moss Point's Police Department has also been working with its citizens to promote non-violence.

No matter what city or county you live in South Mississippi, you can report information on crimes by calling the crime stoppers hotline, or submitting a tip online without anyone knowing who you are.

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