TAMPA (FOX 13) - Glorified by gangster rappers and movies like Goodfella's, a code of the streets called 'no snitching' has taken root in the Bay Area, law enforcement say.
The unwritten bylaw can have devastating effects on communities, families, and the justice system.
Lucy Mills said she knows all too well how it works. Her grandson C.J. was murdered almost nine years ago. And still, no justice.
"I just in the last six months, stopped going out there every day to the grave site," Lucy said.
Understanding the current code of silence in C.J.'s case requires some history.
In 2007, C.J. was a promising football star at Jefferson High School. He was shot in the driveway of his family's home, in broad daylight, by two masked gunmen.
Lucy is convinced someone saw something, but the code of the street keeps them silent. She, however, has a powerful message for anyone willing to listen.
"If you see something, it's good to tell. It's not called something else, it's not a snitch. That's just a name that was put out to make our children feel like they're doing something wrong," she explained.
Detective Chris Freeman is a veteran cop who's been walking some of Tampa's meaner streets for almost 24 years and also knows how the code can work, or work against you.
"A lot of homicides in the city of Tampa and Hillsborough County go unsolved when there are people out there that have truly witnessed these crimes - and the word snitch, they don't want to be labeled," he explained.
So, what can be done to break the cycle of silence?
Freddie Barton of Operation Safe and Sound has some answers. Safe and Sound is a violence prevention collaborative in Hillsborough County with a very unique approach.
"When you're talking about violence prevention, it's generational change," Freddie explained.
His group identifies problem areas using what he calls heat maps. Then, the team at Safe and Sound moves in.
One element of their campaign is mock trials during which impressionable kids learn the ways of law and how to speak out against violence.
In the end, Freddie believes all of us play a role in cracking the 'no snitching' code.
"If we don't eradicate this no snitching, if we don't adopt the campaign of 'ditch no snitch,' then we will still see these incidences of violence," he said.
To learn more about Operation Safe and Sound, visit http://safeandsoundhillsborough.org/