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Originally published Saturday, June 2, 2012 at 8:25 PM

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Breaking the code of silence following random gang shootings

In 2009, after anti-violence activist Tyrone Love was gunned down on the same corner as Justin Ferrari recently, East Cherry Street, Chukundi Salisbury tried to break the "no snitching" code that fuels repeating cycles of revenge and violence.

Seattle Times staff columnist

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So what do we do now?

If anyone has some wisdom for this city after the random violence and loss of the past few weeks, I figure it's Chukundi Salisbury.

The man buried one of his best friends three years ago after another inexplicable shooting in Seattle, the still-unsolved murder of music promoter and anti-violence activist Tyrone Love. It happened at the same corner as the random killing this May 24 of Madrona father of two Justin Ferrari.

The two slayings share more than proximity. After both, at least at first, police investigating the crimes came up against a thicket of silence.

"What I've learned," Salisbury says, "is there is such a disdain for the system and the police that some people would rather see a killer go free. They choose to let street justice work it all out."

In 2009, after Love was gunned down on East Cherry Street, Salisbury launched what to me was the most promising inner-city movement in years. It was a full-on crusade to try to jar Seattle from its slumber about street violence, and in particular to try to break the "no snitching" code that fuels repeating cycles of revenge and violence.

What was powerful is that it wasn't coming from the usual dubious suspects — "mayors, police chiefs or lecturing newspaper columnists," I wrote at the time. But from a DJ known as Kun Luv, a fixture in the nightclub scene with a party email list 50,000 names strong.

"If a completely senseless killing like this can't get us to change, what will?" he challenged the city back in 2009.

Three years on, I asked Salisbury if anything did change.

He doesn't candy-coat the toll an out-of-the-blue, unsolved murder has on its survivors.

"Tyrone Love's mom died because of it," he says, speaking of Roberta Love-Harrison of Madrona. "She wasn't sick or anything — she died of a broken heart. Both of his sisters moved to Atlanta because they couldn't take living in Seattle anymore."

He also said the effort so sapped him he's had to step away a bit.

"I used to be out there, talking to gang members. But one shooting — and you know there will be another shooting — it sucks the air right out of you. It's been a hard three years."

But he insisted there has been progress. The biggest is a sense the code of silence may be fraying.

After the deadly shooting of Courtney Taylor two weeks ago at the Jack in the Box in Rainier Beach, police at first reported that "although there were 40-50 individuals on scene, no one provided information to officers as to what occurred."

But that night, a woman called police and outed the alleged shooter. The next morning, a detective got a photo of the shooter in his email. By the end, five witnesses, as well as the shooter's sister had all told police he was the guy.

"See, that's hope right there," Salisbury said.

That people come forward is crucial not just because it helps police catch killers. It's that they are taking a risk to make a stand in their own communities. That makes it bottom-up crime fighting. The kind that's lasting and really works.

It's the opposite of, say, leaving town or arming yourself — other impulses we've been discussing in this column during our wave of violence.

Salisbury said when people don't talk, it's not because they don't care. They're simultaneously holding "extremely conflicting beliefs." Revulsion at the violence on the one hand, distrust of police or fear of the gangs on the other.

Salisbury says he has heard rumors "on the street" that a number of people know who shot Justin Ferrari, too.

"I believe someone will find the strength to come forward in that case," he said. "If and when they do, you watch — it will be the most powerful stop-the-violence statement anyone could make."

Rattled Seattle could sure use some of that about now.

I don't know how he does it, but Salisbury was out recently putting up posters in the Central Area calling, yet again, for someone to come forward about Love's slaying. Now three years distant.

"Maybe one day it will break," he said. "Can't give up hope."

Danny Westneat's column appears Wednesday and Sunday. Reach him at 206-464-2086 or dwestneat@seattletimes.com.

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