Alum Frank Main cracks Chicago's criminal code, wins Pulitzer Prize

By John D. Thomas | Emory Magazine | Feb. 29, 2012

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Frank Main dove deep into investigative reporting for his prizewinning series on Chicago's "no-snitch" code. Photo by John J. Kim, Chicago Sun-Times.

Veteran Chicago Sun-Times crime reporter and Emory alum Frank Main was sitting in a McDonald’s in Chicago’s gritty Uptown neighborhood interviewing Willie Brown, an ex-con and former member of the infamous Vice Lords street gang. Brown had recently been shot in the leg during an altercation, and Main was investigating the incident for a series of news stories on Chicago crime.

Then, as Brown casually popped chicken McNuggets into his mouth, Main’s routine assignment took a decidedly unexpected turn: the man who had shot Brown ambled into Mickey D’s. When Brown saw his assailant, he exclaimed to Main, “There he is. That’s him right there!”

The scene became even stranger when what could have been a violent reunion morphed into a poignant moment, as Brown and the shooter hugged and told each other, “We cool.”

So if Brown knew who shot him, and that man was conspicuously out walking the streets of Chicago, why wasn’t he in jail?

Because in Chicago, “snitches get stitches.”

Main’s reporting on the Willie Brown shooting was part of his 2011 Pulitzer Prize-winning Sun-Times series focusing on Chicago’s “no snitch” code. It’s a complicated set of social rules condoned and followed by many who live in the city’s most crime-ridden areas, and it’s a practice that keeps killers and gunmen on the street. In short, many Chicagoans who could identify people who have committed violent crimes won’t cooperate with the police because they don’t trust the authorities, they fear retribution, or they want to take care of the situation themselves.

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