NIAGARA FALLS — Following the unsolved Sept. 28 slaying of a young Niagara Falls man, a pastor on Sunday launched a bold new initiative to encourage cooperating and sharing information with police.
“We’ve got to put the word out there that it’s not a bad thing to tell information that you know,” said True Bethel Baptist Church Pastor Craig D. Pridgen.
Pridgen, during an address to youth at his Sunday afternoon worship, unveiled the “I Am A Snitch” campaign, which uses the slogan “If you see it, say it. If you know it, tell it.” to urge members of the public to cooperate with investigators.
“There’s folks that think snitching is a bad thing and it’s a bad word,” he said. “We just want to combat that. If you know information, be willing to say it and not wait until it’s somebody in your immediate family or somebody you’re close to and then you want everyone to speak up about it.”
Pridgen’s call comes a week after 19-year-old Marquis Scott was killed on Weston Avenue in the city.
“Nobody’s willing to say anything but we know there are people that know what happened,” he said.
On Sunday, the church handed out T-shirts that read “I Am A Snitch” to contrast with others in the community that bear witness intimidation slogans such as “Snitches Get Stitches.”
“The message was received well,” Pridgen said, noting that more T-shirts would be printed and passed out this week. “People were asking for T-shirts after service.”
Pridgen and County Legislator Owen T. Steed, who also attended Sunday’s service, are organizing a meeting Tuesday with “the three Ps” — police, politicians and preachers — as the next step in their initiative.
That meeting will be held at 5 p.m. in New Hope Baptist Church on Buffalo Avenue.
“And then we’re going to call a larger community meeting in Niagara Falls to pull everybody together to figure out how do we combat this stuff?” he said. “How do we fix this stuff in our community?”
Pridgen also encouraged anyone fearful of going directly to police to call his church line at 895-8222, Ext. 227, and leave a message in his mailbox, which is accessible only by the pastor and his assistant.
“If you know something, if you know somebody that might have information, pass it on to me,” he said.
“I’ll be willing to put my neck on the line to put that out there,” he added.
Sen. Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., last year said witness intimidation has become a national issue in law enforcement’s ability to solve crimes.
While killing a witness already can lead to the death penalty in federal court, Schumer’s State Witness Protection Act would increase the maximum penalty to 30 years in prison, up from 25 years under state law, for attempted murder or the use of force against a witness.
It also would establish a maximum of 20 years in prison for other types of witness intimidation, up from seven years under current state law.