'Their lives are on the line:' Community members afraid to report on crime suspects
WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. (CBS12) —
The gunmen responsible for the string of shootings in West Palm Beach are still out there.
Community members want them to be arrested so they can feel safe, but at the same time aren’t providing the testimony that can put the killers behind bars.
In the streets, it’s a known fact: snitches get stitches.
West Palm Beach activist Ricky Aiken tries to change that culture every day.
“Being a snitch is one of the most dangerous things you can be because of the culture of inner city communities,” said Aiken, the founder of Inner City Innovators.
Although the initial tip can be anonymous, Aiken says once there’s a trial, it’s a different ballgame.
“People have to show up and testify and they can be traced," he said. "Their lives are on the line."
Cyrus Toufanian, a board certified criminal trial attorney, says he witnessed it many times as a prosecutor in Palm Beach County.
“The night before the trial, the witness was murdered," he said. "It was a burglary. It doesn’t even need to be a serious crime."
Aiken says when witnesses don’t show up, the shooters are often freed quickly.
“The justice system isn’t doing enough to punish people for the crimes they commit,” he said.
But cases aren’t always strong enough with a witness.
Toufanian recalls one particulat murder case he prosecuted.
“The day of the trial, the witnesses would not cooperate," he said. "So the only charge they could get to stick was a misdemeanor charge...that same night he was arrested again for another attempted murder."
However, Toufanian isn’t hopeful about a solution.
“I don’t think of anything right now that could actually help solve this problem," he said.
Aiken says fear should not stop justice.
“There’s a quote that I read, I think it was by Martin Luther’s King Jr.," he said. "He said, 'A man who isn’t willing to die for something is not fit to live.'"
CBS12 News reached out to the state attorney’s office for comment, but have not received a response.
In less than two weeks, there have been four deadly shootings, yet only one arrest.
Police are urging anyone with information on any of these crimes to call Crime Stoppers.