Resurrect bill to shield witnesses

Friends and neighbors march in memory of King Carter, shot and killed at age 6.
Friends and neighbors march in memory of King Carter, shot and killed at age 6. pfarrell@miamiherald.com

King Carter is dead and buried. The outrageous crimes that placed the precious 6-year-old, and too many other children, in a coffin rage on.

This time, police quickly made three arrests in the shootout in which King, eulogized on Saturday, was killed. The anger of a broad swath of the community where he lived shook loose information that led to the arrests. But that doesn’t happen as often as it should. In the gang-ravaged urban core, residents who see something or know something keep their mouths shut. It’s a matter of survival, not one of condoning unmitigated violence. The shooters aren’t afraid to retaliate.

Unfortunately, an effort to provide witnesses a measure of protection went nowhere in the state Senate this session.

King’s murder is in no way unique. Randy Wadley, who lived in Allapattah, was 6, like King, when he was shot and killed by someone with bad aim and absolutely no shame. Two weeks earlier, Renel Elans, was shot in the back, killed by a stray bullet as he walked along Biscayne Boulevard. A trauma coordinator at Jackson Memorial Hospital, where Randy was taken, said, “We`ve been seeing too much of this lately — little kids getting shot.”

She made that sobering observation in 1993.

In 1995, Bernabe Ramirez was killed in a drive-by shooting in Little Havana. He was 3.

In 1997, little Rickia Isaac was killed by a stray bullet as she walked home after the Martin Luther King Jr. parade in Liberty City. She was 5. In 2000, Derrick Lynch was 2, when bullets meant for his uncle found him instead. In 2006, Sherdavia Jenkins, 9, was shot in the neck while playing outside.

Sad to say, this list is in no way exhaustive; many more teens have been killed over the decades, because they were participants in shootings or just trying to make it home from football practice.

It’s become exhausting to see time and again the blood, then the tears, then the vigils, then the vows that something is going to change. But little does.

This year, state lawmakers seemed poised to bring about some change. A bill by Rep. Ed Narain, whose Tampa district has seen its share of similar shooting deaths — including that of a 14-year-old witness helping law enforcement — would have shielded from public record the names of people who cooperated with police, he told the Editorial Board. The media, too, would be shut out, which concerns the Board. Legislators continue to draw the blinds on public information in this, the government-in-the-sunshine state.

But the high stakes justify the exception in this instance. Plus, the accused would eventually face his accuser publicly in court, and defense attorneys would still have access to the information in discovery.

“We would have to rely on that attorney to follow the rules of civil procedure,” Rep. Narain said. In other words, they would be barred from relaying the information to the defendant. “They are not supposed to engage in any activity that would harm a witness.”

Though passed by two committees in the House, the companion bill in the Senate got stuck in committee without a hearing.

That is truly a shame. Rep. Narain said that the bill’s supporters included the Police Benevolent Association and the NAACP, two organizations that don’t always agree.

This bill should get the hearing it deserves next year. People are getting away with murder.