Aug 15 - 'Snitching' T-shirts spark outrage

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 08-15-2005, 06:59 AM         #1
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Aug 15 - 'Snitching' T-shirts spark outrage

'Snitching' T-shirts spark outrage
By RAY HENRY, Standard-Times staff writer

NEW BEDFORD -- Rahking Lopes puffed on a cigar as he sauntered inside the same West End housing complex that detectives canvassed door-to-door hours earlier while investigating the recent shooting of a 3-year-old girl.
Few witnesses have stepped forward to offer police information about the gunman who shot the toddler in the leg on Wednesday night, authorities say. Perhaps the message on Mr. Lopes' black T-shirt explains why.
A red octagon resembling a stop sign adorns the front. The white lettering inside carries a simple warning: "Stop snitching."
"It's for the neighborhood," said Mr. Lopes, 24. "Somebody snitched on me. I just got out of jail."
Law enforcement authorities say reluctant witnesses, labeled snitches by their detractors, have hampered investigations into multiple k*llings, including two teenagers shot dead three blocks from Big Willy's Style on Kempton Street where Mr. Lopes bought his shirt.
Witness intimidation in New Bedford has proved a pervasive problem. A gunman fired four shots at the main witness in a gang-related murder this winter. Another received a threatening phone call and chose jail over testifying. One man called to testify complained of being threatened at gunpoint.
"Apparently, this is a fashion statement now," said David Oliveira, a local attorney, who saw a vendor hawking a similar shirt last week at the Feast of the Blessed Sacrament, one of the city's largest cultural attractions.
William H. Shell, the owner of Big Willy's, sells the shirts in his clothing store for $20. They're popular with teenagers, and he has few qualms about selling them.
"Kids don't get shot over T-shirts," he said. "That stuff happened long before this T-shirt came out."
Mr. Shell, 55, said he's only vaguely familiar with the slogan's origin.
The genesis may lie in Baltimore, where police noticed a homemade DVD titled "Stop Snitching" circulating in crime-plagued neighborhoods last year, according to news accounts. Speakers flash guns and jewelry while threatening individuals believed to be cooperating with the police. Denver Nuggets star Carmelo Anthony makes a cameo appearance.
Mr. Shell's stock of "Stop Snitching" shirts came from a wholesale distributor in New York City, he said. They are piled in the middle of his store, available in black, white or camouflage.
"To me, nobody should buy those things," said Lt. Richard M. Spirlet, a spokesman for the New Bedford Police Department. "Why would someone want to wear something like that and think that's the way to go? He should have T-shirts that say, 'Get Involved' or 'Save Your Neighborhood.'"
Big Willy's offers the same variety of fitted baseball caps, Portuguese flags, jewelry and clothing available from its competitors. But more sinister themes are tucked between the Nuggets jerseys and Tupac Shakur shirts.
The $25 rack contains one T-shirt depicting a coffin. It warns that the "game don't stop until the casket drops." Mugshots taken of the leaders of a notorious crack cocaine ring based in Detroit adorn another.
"I won't sell you that one," Mr. Shell told a reporter.
The business does operate with a sense of civic duty, Mr. Shell said. Unlike many convenience stores, he doesn't sell knives or cigarette papers, commonly used to roll marijuana joints.
He generally opens in the evenings because his days are spent working at the United Way-sponsored Hunger Commission to supply food for the needy. A former addict, Mr. Shell helped found Treatment on Demand and formerly led the South First Street Neighborhood a*sociation.
The Standard-Times named him the New Bedford Man of the Year in 1999 for his civic involvement.
"For him of all people -- I don't believe he could be selling that," said Phyllis Lopes, the leader of the Citywide Neighborhood Alliance, an anti-violence coalition.
Her grandson Cecil was k*lled in a drive-by shooting last Halloween just blocks from Mr. Shell's store. She says the investigation stalled because those at the scene wouldn't talk to the police.
She wouldn't judge the T-shirts she said without first speaking with Mr. Shell. But she said the two-word message "raises eyebrows."
"I would hope it doesn't mean what I think it means," she said. "murder is not entertainment."

Contact Ray Henry at rhenry@s-t.com

 http://www.southcoasttoda .. 5/a01lo501.htm


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