More than a month after his nephew was murdered following an attempt to chase down a would-be robber, Congressman Elijah Cummings wants to ensure that other witnesses implicated in violent crimes are kept safe.
Cummings on July 26 introduced the Witness Security and Protection Grant Program Act of 2011, which would allow the Attorney General to issue funds to state and local governments to implement programs to protect witnesses involved in homicides, serious drug offenses and severe felonies.
“After my own family tragedy earlier this year, I am anxious to see this law passed by both houses of Congress and signed by President Obama,” Cummings said in a statement. “There is a culture in many of the areas that are beset by violent crime that ‘snitching’ is dishonorable. Nothing could be further from the truth.”
“We must have the ability to protect those who are willing to make their communities safer by reporting crimes and helping bring those who commit crimes to justice,” Cummings said. “Without the cooperation of the public, it is impossible for law enforcement to effectively do its job. This bill will go a long way toward protecting witnesses so that they might provide that essential cooperation.”
Cummings’ nephew, Christopher Cummings, was shot to death June 13 at an apartment near Old Dominion University, where he was a student. The shooting came several weeks after the younger Cummings reportedly attempted to chase an individual who attempted to rob him, and later faced threats in connection with the incident.
Under the bill, state and local governments would provide short-term and permanent relocation and would also provide financial and housing assistance.
The recent bill is similar to a 2009 bill introduced by Cummings which passed in the House but was ultimately blocked by the Senate, despite a number of supporters.
Since the launch of the U.S. Witness Protection Program in 1970, not a single witness who followed security procedures has been harmed while under protection, according to the U.S. Marshall's Web site. Witnesses enrolled in the program typically receive new identities, housing assistance and job training and employment.
Data from the National Institute of Justice reveals that over half of the prosecutors in large jurisdictions say that witness intimidation is a serious dilemma. Prosecutors nationwide believe that witness intimidation occurs in 75 to 100 percent of the violent crimes in neighborhoods with high gang activity.