Start Snitching, Get Killed?

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Here’s something that those of us who decry urban mores against ‘snitching’ forgot to consider—witness intimidation. Imagine having to live down the block from the knuckleheads who know that you know exactly what violent thing they did:

No national statistics on crimes against witnesses exist, and minimal research has been conducted on the subject. The latest National Institute of Justice survey on record — conducted more than a decade ago — shows that more than half of big city prosecutors consider witness intimidation a major problem.

Colorado has $50,000 allocated to its witness protection budget. In contrast, the city of Denver spent almost $100,000 on landscaping last year.

The state, on average, spends about $1,000 per witness. That figure supposedly includes moving expenses, rent, and furniture. The federal program spends in excess of $40 million per year on witness protection.

One possible reason for the disparity is that witnesses in state cases do not get new identities, as do federal witnesses. “It’s not designed to be a long-term relocation at the public’s expense; it’s a way to ensure the immediate safety of the witnesses,” according to Peter Weir, executive director of the Colorado Department of Public Safety.

Witnesses in criminal cases get intimidated, and murdered, with alarming frequency while those of us who live lives far removed, except by the worst of luck, from crime tsk-tsk over their poor character when they choose their safety over their civic duty. It’s one thing to disapprove of tolerating criminality. It’s quite another to focus on landscaping when leaving brave witnesses to protect themselves, and their families, from conscienceless predators.

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It sure feels that way to me, and here at Mother Jones, we’ve been thinking a lot about what journalism needs to do differently, and how we can have the biggest impact.

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It's unlike anything we've done, and we have seed funding to get started, but we're looking to raise $500,000 from readers by July when we'll be making key budgeting decisions—and the more resources we have by then, the deeper we can dig. If our plan sounds good to you, please help kickstart it with a tax-deductible donation today.

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Signed by Clara Jeffery

Clara Jeffery, Editor-in-Chief

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