4-19-10 Robert Tate collapsed near this black fence at 921 N. Avers in Chicago . Story about Robert C. Tate who was shot and killed near the 900 block of Avers in Chicago. Police said Robert C. Tate refused to snitch on who shot him shortly before Tate died. Family says he was shot in the back and never talked to anyone and died very quickly. Sun-Times photo by al podgorski
Updated: May 5, 2011 1:31PM
Originally published April 20, 2010
Robert Tate wasn’t ever going to snitch -- not even when it came to his own murder, according to the Chicago Police.
Tate, 17, was shot in the chest as someone approached him on a West Side sidewalk on the evening of April 12, police say. Seeing that Tate was wounded badly and probably wouldn’t make it, an officer asked: Do you know who shot you?
“I know,” Tate told him. “But I ain’t telling you s---.”
That’s according to Harrison Area Police Cmdr. Anthony Riccio, who said the murder investigation is focusing on a possible shooter -- even though Tate took his secret to the grave.
“Unfortunately it’s almost a culture among the drug dealers and gang members, that code of silence, that ‘don’t snitch’ mentality that they not only have when they’re witnesses, but also when they’re the victims,” Riccio said.
But Tate’s mother Cynthia Washington doesn’t buy it.
She doesn’t know how her son -- a “very respectful child” -- could have told police anything as he lay dying on the scene in the 900 block of North Avers.
“Why wouldn’t he tell them who shot him?” Washington wondered.
Riccio responded that Tate was lucid as he spoke to the officer, then died as paramedics tried to save him.
Riccio said it’s commonplace for shooting victims whose wounds aren’t life-threatening to refuse to cooperate. Just last week, a 22-year-old gang member was on a bicycle in the 500 block of East 88th when he was shot in the thigh. He didn’t even want to report the shooting after he was taken to Stroger Hospital.
“But I have never seen anyone take it to the grave,” Riccio said.
Police think Tate was killed because of his involvement in the drug trade in Humboldt Park.
“One of the things from people on the street was that he was ripping off [drug] buyers,” Riccio said. “When that happens, of course, the buyers take their business elsewhere, and it affects the drug trade.”
So detectives think Tate was killed because he was hurting business. They’re reviewing surveillance video from police “blue-light cameras” in the area to identify the shooter, Riccio said.
Tate was “in and out” of Nancy B. Jefferson High School, housed in the Cook County Juvenile Detention Center, a Chicago Public Schools spokeswoman said. He had 14 arrests for drugs, weapons and car theft on his rap sheet; a tattoo that read “Make Money or Die;” and a nickname: “C Murder.”
“I didn’t give him that name,” his mother said.
“He was a good young man who loved his mom,” added a friend, Tasha Porter. “Neighborhoods like this are tough to grow up in.”
But one detective also said the motto in neighborhoods like Tate’s is: “Snitches get stitches.”
And Tate is the most extreme example, police say, of the “no-snitching” mind-set they say is making it increasingly difficult to solve murder cases in Chicago. Indeed, the Chicago Police Department’s murder-clearance rate dipped from 58 percent to 54 percent last year.
If Tate had talked before he died, police say, his statement most likely could have been used in court. In a practice dating back centuries, a “dying declaration” -- a statement from a dying crime victim naming the killer -- is typically allowed in criminal cases, even though the defendant won’t have the opportunity to cross-examine his accuser.
In one notable case, in 1999, 24-year-old Michelle Monachello of Glendale Heights was stabbed, doused with gasoline and set afire in DuPage County. A neighbor called 911 and, as he tried to reassure Monachello, she said, “I’m going to die” and then told him, “My boyfriend -- he set me on fire.” The boyfriend, Artarius Jett, got life in prison based in part on what Monachello said before she died.
In recent years, police and community groups have been ratcheting up a campaign urging people to report suspects in crimes -- despite fears of retribution, fear of the police and fear of being labeled a snitch.
Last year, the Rev. Michael Pfleger of St. Sabina Catholic Church on the South Side put up 20 billboards across the city that read: “Shoot or kill our children? You will be caught.” The billboards offered $5,000 rewards for information leading to the conviction of criminals who shot or killed “our children” and urged people to call in anonymously with tips.
Chicago Police now have their own campaign called “Silence Kills.” They’re asking people to text-message anonymous tips to 274637 or call the police anonymously.
They’re urging people to do just that in Robert Tate’s case -- even though the teenager wouldn’t do it for himself.