Philly Witnesses Defy the “Stop Snitching” Code

A story you probably didn't read this week: Two people speak up in court

This has been a crazy, violent week in Philadelphia: marauding teens, a guy firing into a crowded bar after being kicked out for smoking, and 32 people shot last weekend alone. Nevermind the date on the calendar or the weather—the summer hasn’t officially begun until the shell casings start dropping. I can’t think of a better way to encourage folks in the Delaware Valley to come into town for the Wawa Welcome America party. Fireworks! The Roots! Mostly sunny with a high chance of flash mobs and gunplay!

There was a story this week in the Philadelphia Inquirer, quietly tucked into page three of the local news section, that offered a glimmer of hope amidst all of this insanity. The setting was, sadly, nothing out of the ordinary—a courtroom where tales of drugs and violence are the broken-record mantra, day in and day out. But Tuesday, something remarkable happened, something so inspiring that it nearly moved a hardened assistant district attorney to tears. That day, a 13-year-old boy and a 58-year-old woman did something breathtaking. They spoke up.

The young teen didn’t look the part of a hero—shy, stuttering and slightly built, according to the Inquirer. At one point, he admitted, “I’m scared.” Yet the child did what so many others have failed to do on the witness stand. He defied the “stop snitching” code of the streets and identified the man he saw put a bullet in another man’s head in a Frankford shoot-out. In a separate case in that same courtroom, Yvonne Henderson spoke of the night she was nearly killed in Nicetown, and the crack dealer who wasn’t so lucky. As spectators broke into a loud argument, the weight of her situation overwhelmed her. “I know they’re going to try to kill me,” Henderson said. Thanks to their testimony, both suspects will stand trial for murder.

This story should have been given the page-one, above-the-fold treatment. I didn’t see Action News that night, but my guess is that all of the local stations chose something else for their top story, if they covered this at all. It’s not a sexy yarn. Both murders were drug deals gone bad. There isn’t enough space in the newspapers—and maybe not enough on the Internet, either—to report on every murder trial. It will likely be forgotten in the weeks to come. Still, I hope that in this age of eyeblink news cycles, these two witnesses aren’t forgotten. And that the follow-up story about these two brave souls is one of courage triumphing over fear, not of revenge and tragedy.