CLEARWATER — The Dash family never stopped fighting for justice in Leon Dash Jr.’s murder case. Brutally attacked in a parking lot trying to break up a fight while working as a security guard for a teen party at the Atrium Martini Bar in downtown Clearwater, his case grew cold rapidly as a result of the community’s code of silence.
Following his death, the Dash family kept his memory alive and his cold case active by keeping in touch with the detectives in charge of his case, and by communicating openly with news reporters and journalist about the void that was left in their hearts by his death.
The public spotlight was a peculiar place for this private, close-knit family, but they developed the spiritual strength to keep Leon in the public eye as they moved forward and armed themselves with prayer to persevere while waiting patiently on justice.
In 2013, the Springtime Club joined the Dash family in honoring Leon’s memory by hosting activities to encourage the community to break the code of silence and to stand up for justice and speak out for crime victims and their survivors.
On the morning of July 27, 2013, the Dash family was featured on Pastor Fred Hinton’s radio talk show where the public was encouraged to come forward with information, and that evening a candlelight vigil service for was held as part of the Springtime Club’s National Crime Victim’s Rights Week Program.
Since that time, every year around the anniversary of Leon death, the Springtime Club would honor him and his family by assisting them in keeping his memory alive and the community engaged in his case. The public awareness campaign is part of the Club’s victim’s advocacy programs that includes activities aimed at spotlighting the community’s cold cases, heightening the sensitivity and awareness for victim’s right and educating the public on the long lasting effects of murder on the community.
Last week, the Dash family learned that Preston Bell had been officially charged with manslaughter, which is the equivalent of third degree murder in other states. Records show that Bell was previously arrested in Pinellas and Miami-Dade counties on various charges, including possession of drugs.
In November of 2012, Clearwater police arrested then 26-year-old Bell on charges of aggravated battery and robbery after they said he shot 22-year-old Jacob Woods and snatched his wallet.
That means that the now 30-year-old murder suspect would have been around 21 years of age when Leon was killed, and in all probability he has spent nearly the last decade committing more crimes and violence in our neighborhoods when he could have been behind bars being held accountable for murder.
Elaine Dash Wade shared that she joined the Springtime Club because she understood firsthand the importance for other families to have a voice when lawlessness runs rampant and this type of vicious behavior and senseless acts of violence continues to go on without pause.
The Springtime Club can only wonder if that code of silence not only failed the Dash family, but also failed Jacob Woods and Preston himself by not holding him accountable for his actions as a young offender.
Ponder this: if this young adult male had been charged with manslaughter, a felony that usually carries a jail or prison sentence of at least 12 months plus fines and probation, would he have learned a valuable lesson? Would he have been taught that Leon life is of significance and that his murder has consequence? Would that have kept him from a life of crime and prevented him from committing more acts of violence? And finally, could he have actually turned his life around?
When we refuse to come forward to speak out on behalf of crime victims like Leon, we allow offenders to run the streets with no regard for life, no concern for the law, no respect for justice and no fear of judgment.
The community paid a price because the silence diminished the safety of our neighborhoods. Jacob paid a price by becoming the next victim that suffered at the same hands that took Leon from the Dash family. Preston paid the price because instead of walking out of prison with a chance to change and turn his life around, he will in all probability spend most of his adult life behind bars.
And the Dash family paid the ultimate price for this silence. They lost a loved one to senseless violence and spent nearly a decade trying to crack the code and convince witnesses to come forward.
This is the cost for no snitching in our community. Do you want to continue paying this price? Is it really worth our silence?