2008-02-08 / Columnists

From the Editor's Desk

'Snitches Get Stitches And Wind Up In Ditches'
Commentary By Howard Schwach

Add another saying to American folklore. "Snitches get stitches and wind up in ditches."

Apiece of urban wisdom, a saying for the ages, right up there with "An apple a day will keep the doctor away," and "A bird in hand is worth two in the bush."

Where does the maxim come from?

Nobody seems to be sure. Even Google had trouble coming up with the genesis of this new "truth."

I did find a song sung by a group called "Fall Out Boy," which was released in 2005. The song is called "Snitches and Talkers Get Stitches and Walkers," which is somewhat the same thing, only not as threatening.

Translated into English, the maxim means that everybody should keep their mouth shut if they witness a crime or other transgression. If they don't, the threat goes, they are going to wind up badly hurt.

And, make one thing clear.

It is meant as a threat to the good order and discipline of the civilized world.

See nothing, say nothing, hear nothing, even when what you saw and heard was the murder of some little old lady who was only trying to protect her Social Security check.

The maxim has become the mantra of the hip hop, rap and gangsta rap generation, and they take it seriously.

Witness the life and death of Ronnie Smalls, who died at the ripe old age of 21 after pulling a gun on a trio of undercover cops on an Arverne Street.

Smalls was shot on January 5. Cops say that he was wanted for an earlier gun situation and they attempted to stop him and take him in for questioning. Instead, Smalls ran, then turned and pointed his gun at a pursuing officer. In the struggle for the gun, Smalls was shot three times and killed.

When I started to cover the story, I was standing on Beach 63 Street in the cold, wondering who the dead teen was. I wondered if this shooting was another police-involved shooting that would turn into a citywide wonder, bringing in such black luminaries as Eric Adams, Al Sharpton and Charles Barron.

Then, I heard that the dead youth was Ronnie Smalls, and I knew right away who he was and what he was.

I had covered a story in late June and early July in which a 15-year-old girl was shot in a park at the Hammel Houses. The girl was sitting on a bench, minding her own business when a gang-banger came looking to shoot another gang-banger, and she got caught in the middle.

Two days later, Ronnie Smalls was arrested for attempted murder, assault, criminal possession of a weapon and endangering the welfare of a minor.

Smalls' Brother, Cedric, was murdered in the gang wars of late 2006. His other brother, Andrew, was arrested in February of 2007 for the murder of a man who the Smalls family believed had killed Cedric. Not your "Leave it to Beaver" family.

So, when Ronnie Smalls was shot on that January morning, I wondered what he was doing walking around in Arverne. What happened to the July charges of attempted murder, weapons possession and assault? Surely, I thought, he wasn't out on bail and it was clear that the thug he was shooting at, the girl that he hit and several others who were in the park that June day could identify Smalls as the shooter.

That's where I was wrong, and where the maxim "Snitches get stitches and wind up in ditches" comes into play.

After pulling teeth with Queens District Attorney Richard Brown's office for several days, I finally found out what happened.

Although grand jury minutes are sealed, a spokesperson for Brown gave me a statement I could use for my story, and that statement indicates not only the problems Smalls created, but also the problem that now infests a good majority of the black community who lives in our public housing complexes.

Don't see, don't talk, don't tell, and don't snitch.

The DA's spokesperson told me that the grand jury hearing Smalls' case would not vote out a true bill, meaning they could not indict Smalls on the charges, effectively dismissing the charges against him. That much was public knowledge as provided by the DA.

Using that knowledge, I dug a little deeper with my sources in the criminal justice community and found that neither the victim nor any of the witnesses, including the other gang thug that he shot, would identify him as the shooter.

Case dismissed. Go home and arm yourself again.

Smalls should not have been surprised. In fact, I am sure he expected that nobody would provide identification of him. He lived that way himself.

In June of 2006, Smalls was shot twice in the back at the Hammel Houses. He refused to speak to detectives about who shot him or what the motive the shooter might have had.

He was no snitch, even with two bullets in his back.

Another example from recent Rockaway history.

On January 5, two young teens, a fifteen-year-old and a thirteenyear old, shot an 18-year-old teen at the Redfern Houses in Far Rockaway, another public housing project.

Judging by what we have been told by Redfern residents and other local sources, the teen was shot because he did not want to join the gang to which the two shooters allegedly belonged.

You would think that the Redfern community would be outraged, that statements would be coming in to police from all over the community.

Snitches get stitches and wind up in ditches.

Instead, the family of Neville Ward has been forced to move out of the community to an undisclosed location because they got constant reminders that they should not speak to the police.

Some of the calls said, "We got your son and we're going to get you next."

Others were simply hang-ups, almost as menacing as the spoken word.

The message was clear. Don't talk to police. Don't cooperate. Don't snitch, even though we killed your son.

What a world we live in.

If the community is going to take back its homes and streets, then members of that community are going to have to cooperate with police. The bad guys have to go.

Every time somebody lives by the new maxim, others die and the criminals go free.

That is not something any of us can live with.

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