Start Snitching, Get Killed Part II

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Earlier this week, I wrote of the kind of witness intimidation (i.e. murder) that makes sense of the urban ‘stop snitching’ more, especially when you factor in that few states offer witnesses any protection at all. But you won’t believe this:

For prosecutors in New Jersey, much about the 2004 murder of Deshawn McCray was all too familiar: Yet another key witness in a major drug case had been shot dead before he could testify in court.

But there was one aspect of the killing that especially alarmed and infuriated prosecutors. They believed that a defense lawyer — a former prosecutor — had played a role in facilitating the murder.

The United States attorney has said that that lawyer, Paul Bergrin, relayed Mr. McCray’s identity to friends of one of his clients, a gang member who was facing life in prison on drug charges. The prosecutors said he had even met with members of his client’s gang in person to make clear what was at stake….

Three months later, Mr. McCray was shot in the head by one of the gang members on a Newark street….

…In gang cases prosecuted in cities including Trenton, Newark and Camden, it is not unusual for a witness’s statement to be photocopied within days of being turned over to the defendant’s lawyer, and then be posted on telephone poles or circulated throughout the neighborhood.

Talk about full-service:

The only legal or professional scrutiny Mr. Bergrin is currently known to face, in fact, is in New York City, where prosecutors have charged him with running New York Confidential, a brothel that charged $1,000 an hour.

The office of the Manhattan district attorney, Robert M. Morgenthau, has accused Mr. Bergrin of taking over the business from a former client and using it to offer sexual favors to unnamed New Jersey law enforcement officers and jail guards — people who were in a position to keep him informed about what inmates might be planning to cooperate against his clients.

The “stop snitching” ethos may have come to mean “it’s wrong to help The Man” but it may just be that it didn’t start out that way. When it comes to civic-mindedness in the hood, maybe those of us who don’t live there should just shut the hell up.

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THE TRUTH...

is the first thing despots go after. An unwavering commitment to it is probably what draws you to Mother Jones' journalism. And as we're seeing in the US and the world around, authoritarians seek to poison the discourse and the way we relate to each other because they can't stand people coming together around a shared sense of the truth—it's a huge threat to them.

Which is also a pretty great way to describe Mother Jones' mission: People coming together around the truth to hold power accountable.

And right now, we need to raise about $400,000 from our online readers over the next two months to hit our annual goal and make good on that mission. Read more about the information war we find ourselves in and how people-powered, independent reporting can and must rise to the challenge—and please support our team's truth-telling journalism with a donation if you can right now.

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