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NAACP calls pastors together to urge community to help find police killer

ST. PETERSBURG — After gunning down a police officer, the shooter vanished into the dark.

No one saw the shooting. Those who saw the killer running away could provide only a vague description. He was still at large late Tuesday.

With such scant information about the suspect, city officials say someone in the community will have to step forward with a tip to help bring Officer David Crawford's killer to justice.

"We're going to rely upon the community's help," Mayor Bill Foster said Tuesday.

But that has sometimes proven difficult in St. Petersburg. Police and murder victims' family members have lamented in the past about an "anti-snitch" culture in some neighborhoods.

African-American community leaders were so concerned about that issue that they called a meeting Tuesday night to plan ways to encourage people with information to step forward. About 35 pastors, community leaders and NAACP officials attended.

"There's some residual sentiment out there that the police are against us and anybody who helps them is perceived as a traitor to the community," said the Rev. Manuel Sykes, president of the St. Petersburg branch of the NAACP, who set up the meeting.

The leaders also encouraged the shooter to turn himself in. They asked him to call the NAACP at 727-898-3310 to help make that happen peacefully.

"We don't want anyone else to die. We'd like to facilitate their surrender," said the Rev. Wayne G. Thompson of First Baptist Institutional Church.

Authorities are offering a $100,000 reward for information that will lead them to Crawford's killer. A similar amount was offered last year after a man killed two officers in Tampa. A tipster's information led to the arrest of Dontae Morris; the tipster later collected most of the money.

Experts and community leaders point to a variety of reasons people don't come forward — even if there is a reward.

"If members of the community are fearful that they may be the object of retribution, that may keep them from reporting," said Jon Shane, a professor at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City. "We know that in certain circumstances, that the money is not enough to entice people to report, because these people … still have to live in the community and face family, friends and associates of the people they turn in."

Terry Byrd, program director at the St. Petersburg College Allstate Southeastern Public Safety Institute, said past mistreatment of minorities led to distrust of police. "No snitching, especially in the African-American community, was pretty much a principle based on the relationship with the law enforcement community over the years,'' he said.

Watson Haynes, a leader in St. Petersburg's African-American community, said he understands why people don't want to get involved.

"When things happen in South St. Pete, we're one contiguous area, so word gets out faster," he said. "Anybody who sees and witnesses something thinks, 'if I snitch, it's going to get out.' It's not like Tampa, where there are pockets of black neighborhoods."

Still, he said people should come forward with information.

St. Petersburg resident Lisa Wheeler-Brown knows the cost of the no-snitching culture all too well. She says the 2008 murder of her son is unsolved because of it.

"People come to me and tell me what they know and that they don't want to tell the detectives,'' said Wheeler-Brown, who is chairwoman of a local initiative at the Florida Holocaust Museum to combat the no snitching culture. "I see that some of these pastors and these leaders want to step up now, but it takes more than them, it takes community involvement, just regular people."

Sykes said he hopes the meeting Tuesday will be a first step in encouraging people with information to step forward.

"The bottom line is if our community is going to have law and order, the leaders have to play a part in it, make a clear line of demarcation against those who do wrong and those who are against wrong. And I believe we can inspire that kind of courage.''

Waveney Ann Moore can be reached at wmoore@sptimes.com or (727) 892-2283.

NAACP calls pastors together to urge community to help find police killer 02/22/11 [Last modified: Tuesday, February 22, 2011 10:25pm]
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