A Snitch in Time

A gunshot victim defies the inner-city code of silence.

By Mike Newall
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 17 | Posted Oct. 13, 2009

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Maurice Ragland was close enough that he saw the bluish orange flame explode from the gun. Police found him lying beneath a streetlight, the blood spilling from his head. They thought he was dead. “I’m not dead,” he told them.

The ambulance ride was a blur—the slippery edge between this world and the next. A police officer’s voice grew loud. “Who shot you? Who shot you?” Ragland told them a drug dealer known as Kidney shot him. The police officer’s lips kept moving, but things went quiet, commotion without noise, and then nothing.

Ragland woke up a few days later in the hospital, his jaw hanging slack. He moved his tongue around the inside of his mouth and spit out teeth. He couldn’t feel the left side of his body. A doctor flipped through his chart and told him they’d operate in three days, once the crack cocaine cleared out of his system.

The day Ragland got home, Kidney’s corner boss paid him a visit. He had an offer. 


“Five thousand,” he said, leaning in and speaking low. “Tell the law you made a mistake. You didn’t see who shot you. Let this go.” The corner boss left and Ragland thought over the offer. Then Ragland made a decision that forever changed his life and could still possibly end up killing him. He decided to snitch: to take the money and testify anyway. Teach Kidney a lesson. Tell the truth.

It’s been five months since Ragland testified against the man he says shot him. In doing so, he broke the cardinal rule of the Philadelphia streets—Do Not Snitch. That he survived his wounds is amazing enough, but that he testified is just as amazing.

Like many cities, No Snitching has become part of the fabric of Philadelphia’s criminal justice system. Statistics aren’t kept, but just walk into any homicide or major trials courtroom and sit down for a few hours and watch as a sad drama repeats itself: Witnesses are called to testify. They raise their hand and swear to tell the truth. They look at the defendant and scan the stone-faced neighborhood crowd packed into the court galley. They consider their options: Testify and put their life in danger or lie and go home without being branded a snitch. Then they deny every word they ever told the police. They never saw the defendant before. They weren’t there when it all went down. They were too high to remember. The police beat them. A prosecutor will read back their initial statement into the record, so it can be preserved for trial, and then the witnesses will be excused.

Prosecutors know what goes on— intimidation, payoffs, street justice—but witnesses rarely talk about that stuff in open court, says Prosecutor Ed McCann, Chief of the Homicide Unit.

“That part of the story remains on the streets,” says Jennifer Mitrick, the prosecutor handling Ragland’s case. 


That is until Ragland testified at a May preliminary and matter-of-factly explained to a hushed courtroom how Keith “Kidney” Davis tried buying his silence after shooting him twice in the head at point blank range. Ragland explained it all—how Davis sent everyone from drug bosses to his own girlfriend and mother to urge him to keep quiet and offered him five grand to accompany him to the office of a Center City defense attorney and sign an affidavit saying he didn’t know who shot him. At one point, Davis even paid for a private attorney Ragland needed to deal with a burglary case of his own. Ragland took the money and the assistance and then, as he likes to say, he “burned,” the man who shot him.


In doing so, Ragland provided a rare—and extremely unsettling—look into Philadelphia’s Stop Snitchin’ culture, undoubtedly one of the biggest barriers to staunching the amount of blood that flows through our neighborhood streets each year. And while Ragland has his own reasons for testifying—
revenge and money, mostly—his story allows for a better understanding of uncompromising realities many witnesses and victims confront when deciding to take the stand in Philadelphia. We can’t combat the Stop Snitchin’ mindset if we don’t understand it. Ragland understands it, he’s living through it. 


Now he’s paying the price for his actions. He is a known snitch, a man on the run who sleeps in abandoned houses to hide from anyone who might try to kill him before he can testify at Davis’ February trial. Ragland carries his few possessions—some clothes, medications and soaps—in a backpack. He says many of his friends have disowned him. “What goes on in the hood is hood business,” they tell him. “The next time someone shoots you, they gonna put more than two in your head.” But Ragland is determined to finish what he started. To tell the truth about what happened to him. 


“He almost killed me,” he says. “I just don’t trust him.” 


Ragland takes a seat in a second floor conference room at the District Attorney’s office—a place where he is undeniably safe. At 44-years-old, he is a tall thin man with well-defined facial features and a balding head that bears the scars of his two bullet wounds: a half-inch discolored patch of skin that runs above his right eye and the spider-webbed rumple of skin about the size of a cigar tip behind his left ear. He speaks softly, deliberately and says he understands the danger he’s putting himself in by sharing his story. But then he smiles the smile of a man who was shot in the head twice and survived. 


“When God ready for me, he come and get me,” he says. 


Ragland hopes that “putting his business out there so even the law can see it,” will help him live clean and quit drugs.


He begins by explaining the circumstances he believes led to Davis shooting him. Ragland has a street past of his own.


“I’ve got a nasty reputation for taking things,” he says. 


Ragland spent close to three years in prison for breaking into people’s homes, and has been addicted to crack for almost two decades. (When he was 27 he received three years probation for the statutory rape of a 14-year-old girl; he says it was consensual, but the mother pressed charges.) To support his drug habit, he stole drugs from drug dealers. 


“Real dangerous,” he says. 


While buying drugs during the day, he’d scout out where a dealer hid his stash, then return late at night and take it. He says he never used a gun.


“I’m not the kind of person to strong-arm someone,” he says. “There’s ways to do things. I’d wait till the big bosses leave, and it’s just the newcomers on the corner—there’s always some new drug dealer on the scene that don’t know better—and I’d wait till they were all blunted up or off with a female somewhere and I’d come through the backyards and alleys and take their packages.”


He robbed drug dealers for years, he says—“probably a hundred times”—and never got caught. 


“God looks out for fools and babies,” he says. “He looked out for this fool.”


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COMMENTS

Comments 1 - 17 of 17
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1. tragic said... on Oct 15, 2009 at 10:08PM

“This is a novel...a Philadelphia novel.”

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2. Anonymous said... on Oct 17, 2009 at 10:51AM

“It's a shame after all of that, he is on the streets and on the run, the system should of found him a place to hide.”

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3. M said... on Oct 17, 2009 at 03:16PM

“Don't tell is just a typical abusers weapon against the abusee. I hurt you, don't tell; I rape you, don't tell, I molest you, don't tell, I rob you, don't tell, I kill you, don't tell. It's nothing honorable or loyal about it. It's just duping or scaring the victim into protecting the victimizer. It everybody (the majority) that was being victimized would follow Ragland's example and would just stand up and say no more to the abusers (the minority) they would run the abusers out of the community real quick. I wish the best for Mr. Ragland. The 'hood ought to get behind him, and protect him, because he's really helping them all.”

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4. Anonymous said... on Oct 18, 2009 at 06:07PM

“He still uses crack, he says, but not as much as he did before the shooting. 


“Just socially now,” he says.


What a fine upstanding human being.”

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5. speakeasy said... on Oct 19, 2009 at 01:41PM

“Even though he’s no angel, Ragland is doing a great service for his neighborhood and our city as a whole. The fact that Kidney’s brother died by being murdered the same way Kidney intended to murder Ragland is a perfect example of the cycle of senseless violence in our neighborhoods – and the sickening consequences of individuals acting without conscience or any trace of humanity. People, stop and think.”

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6. 61 said... on Oct 19, 2009 at 08:52PM

“Give the man a hand if the shoe was on the other foot (you would tell to). I hate black on black crime, but the truth is he was suppose to tell. Just because he is on crack does not mean he is not one of god creatures, He has feelins just like every one else he has love ones that will morn him to. No one is better. We are all made by the same god.All in his image. Who are we to judge his life style. Do you walk in your neighbors shoes. Do not judge if you do not want to be judge about your short comings in life.”

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7. a concerned neighbor from 56th & Lansdowne AVE said... on Oct 20, 2009 at 12:05PM

“I know this guy personally and i aint in the streets but i think he's a piece of SHIT.He been terrorizing the neighborhood for years .Breaking into peoples homes and bussiness not jus robbing drug dealers . He talks like he's a victim but he truely is the victimizer . His family been in the neighborhood for years and alot of people have either grown up with him or someone in his family with that being said thatsprobably why no one has done anything to him until.In the street life were this guy really lives there is supposed to be a code were if you do dirt you get dirt done to you . So when he said that people were coming up to him a saying you snitching and acting like he like they couldnt believe it thats why. All the things this guy has done in this neighborhood & has gottn a pass for has now decide that he's gonna ruin another man life.....Truly amazing”

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8. tragic said... on Oct 20, 2009 at 02:09PM

“yes, the ragland guy is a drug abusing thief, but the guy who's life he's "ruiningg”

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9. tragic said... on Oct 20, 2009 at 02:12PM

“hey concerned neighbor,

yes, the ragland guy is a drug abusing thief. but the guy who's life he's "gonna ruin," as you say did shoot him twice in the head. the street codes you talk about are exactly what leads to no one ever standing up and telling authorities about the people shooting up their neighborhoods and killing innocent people”

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10. concerned neighbor said... on Oct 20, 2009 at 05:29PM

“@ tragic
Please be clear that I wasnt talking bout people who are innocent getting shot . I was talking bout a guy that has done plenty of things that would have probably gottn him shot or hurt very bad......and he is far from innocent and like what I stated above this guy has run wild in this neighborhood doing everything from robbing an old pastor( knocking im dwn 2 ground & ruffing him up pretty bad) to breaking into elderly peoples homes.....He should be the last person to go tell this bullshit shit story full of lies......yeah he got shot and he survived . But because of the things that he has gotten away with why not extended that same grace that was extended to him. HE KNOWS THE TRUTH..............”

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11. Anonymous said... on Oct 20, 2009 at 07:36PM

“You can take em both off the streets and there'll be another couple scumbags to fill their places. True, it makes for a good story, but I'm sick of ghetto gangsters. Fuck em all!”

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12. StillaPanther2 said... on Oct 20, 2009 at 08:58PM

“There is no use in preaching to these people (my Brothers and Sisters) because this negative behavoir is ingrained in their souls. Just stop snitching will not change our neighborhood that suffers from this mindset. We should (and could) start by reporting ALL criminal behavoirs and noting these reports with the newspaper to prompt the proper agencies to repond in a timely and IMMEDIATE way. No more selling by your children on the corners. No more boosting. You know what's happening in your neighborhood. Think about the number of outside people that depend on you acting in these criminal and destrutive way. The adults in this social arena continue to contaminate the young. Its hard being honest and law abiding...but the rewards are sooo great when you can sit on your stoop without the fear of being attacked because of your negative and destructive ways. Honestly I want to have a reality show whereby all the hoods, players and miscreants of our "hood" can be placed on an island .”

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13. tragic said... on Oct 20, 2009 at 09:07PM

“concerned neighbor,

i don't think the story is about ragland's past. he might be a total thief drug addict, but there's more important things to talk about. what i meant by innocent is the next time kidney decides to shoot someone in the head over cocaine he could miss and hit a kid on a bike. or a bus driver wlaking home from work. and no one will step forward and then we have this whole conversation about stop snitching again. there's more important things than ragland's past. it may no be my neighborhood, but it is my city, and i don't want kidney out on the streets. i'm sorry you do.

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14. Anonymous said... on Oct 29, 2009 at 02:30AM

“Lets out a guy for snitching. You tool. No wonder we lead the US in murders and violent crimes.”

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15. Anonymous said... on Dec 17, 2009 at 08:09AM

“Anyone who hurt me or does anything to the people I care about, I'll snitch the ish out of them, I dont care about some "code."”

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16. BostonBaked said... on Nov 18, 2010 at 08:25AM

“" Concerned Neighbor..."

to me your just another hood rat just like them.....everybody deserves chances and this was a chance he did not want to take........so if someone shot you what would u do?????? exactly preobably snitch .....i would snitch because i am a college student and i have to live for my son.......instead of watching my back because of these dirty ass drug dealers........get it together ........like all that bull shit ya'll talking is dumb”

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17. normal said... on Feb 23, 2014 at 01:18PM

“I going thru the sand thing”

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