Three weeks ago 8-year-old Paris Whitehead-Hamilton died in a senseless attack on one of her family members. Tampa Bay was in shock over the tender age of the innocent victim and the brutality of the assault weapon attack.
While family and neighbors were grieving 2 days after Paris was killed, Bartlett Park Crime Watch held it's regular monthly meeting. 50 people came instead of the usual dozen and the Times put the story at the top of page 1. Family members of Malayshia Gamble, another girl shot in this neighborhood came to crime watch demanding that residents start reporting crime to police.
In years past, spasms of death and violence in this city were met with finger-pointing, name-calling — even rock throwing.
But when the Bartlett Park Crime Watch gathered Tuesday — the murder of an 8-year-old girl still fresh in their minds — residents found somebody new to blame:
"We sit back, close our mouths, then point fingers when something happens at the police," said Carolyn Newson. "Until that changes, we will continue to bury our young."
Newson has done just that. Her 15-year-old niece, Malayshia Gamble, was found shot dead in January on Preston Avenue S.
2 days later the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and Paris' family announced "Connect the Dots", a campaign to urge people to call in tips on Paris' murder. Posters started going up all over the neighborhood with Paris' photo and the homicide phone number. This campaign is using anger to move people to take action. The "code of silence" is quickly being replaced with "Connect the Dots".
This no snitch culture suddenly went into hiding because it never made any sense for anyone but criminals and it was never embraced by the majority. I'll get some arguments on this but my crime watch experience tells me that most people don't report crime because of fear, apathy and lack of training. They assume police know about drug sales on the corner so why waste time telling cops something they and everyone else in the neighborhood already know all too well. Add to that frustration when understaffed officers take forever to respond to a call or when the caller's useless description doesn't lead to anything. Fear is there and 50 gunshots in a home can only intensify that fear, yet anger over this killing has brought many to overcome fear of retaliation. Crime watch is working to eliminate that fear. Simple tips like "don't give your own address when you make an anonymous call" so the officer will go to the drug house and not your house, will let people know they can remain anonymous. When people are willing to give their name and become witnesses we will come closer to the rest of Pinellas in safety. Leaders like Crime Watch coordinator Ms. Willeen Kelly are proud to stand up with police. Her photo on the cover of the Neighborhood Times 2 weeks ago set an example of someone who can stand up without fear.
This leaves out the hard core who embrace "no snitchin", the criminals, their friends, misguided youth and wannabees who think its cool to not cooperate with authorities. These folks can get $1,500 from the new gun bounty program by turning in someone they don't like, or at least someone they don't like as much as they like the money.
Put it all together and we are on the verge of returning southside residents to a normal state, restoring peace and using citizen provide intelligence to put bad guys on the run.
We won't let this newly found enthusiasm die down. This is our chance to close the drug houses and run the dealers out of town. You can do your part by encouraging residents to fight for their neighborhood and keep this momentum going.