A few things to ponder about the Stop Snitchin' movement
by Davey D
Hell Rell and the crew
Photo: Yum Yum
Seems like there's been a lot of talk and upset over the past few weeks about the proliferation of Hip Hop style t-shirts sporting the slogan "Stop Snitching." Alongside those t-shirts have been a number of high profile DVDs, including one with NBA star Carmello Anthony, bearing the same title or supporting the same theme: Stop snitching.
This slogan has law enforcement officials upset who claim that these shirts and DVDs are nothing more then intimidation tactics which make their jobs harder because they reinforce the notion that witnesses to a crime should remain silent. These law enforcement officials are now scouring rap records and looking a bit more closely at activities within the Hip Hop community and then laying blame on an artist like Scarface, who just released a song called "I Never Snitch" and saying it's people like him within Hip Hop who espouse such views who are to blame for all these unsolved crimes in the community. This sentiment has circulated, and all of sudden we have this being the topic de jour on talk radio and in newspaper columns throughout the country.
Just the other day a reporter from a local Bay Area newspaper called me up to talk about this "new" phenomenon. Please note the quotes around the word "new." As I explained to the reporter, this "Don't Snitch" ethos has been apart of our collective history since we merged or, in the case of African Americans, were dragged to the shores of this country.
Slaves who were either trying to escape the plantation or were engaged in activities that would help sustain them but could get them beat by their masters or slave overseers knew better not to snitch. Over the years Black folks who found themselves engaged in the underground economy like running numbers or braiding hair or doing resistance in the freedom struggle depended upon the community not to snitch.
But let's put all this in perspective, what was being done was not unique to us as Black folks. Damn near every community you can think of ranging from Jews to Irish to Italians to Asians and Latinos have all and in many cases still do have a "Stop Snitching" rule in place.
The fear of deportation or having one's residency status questioned has resulted in a "Don't Snitch" rule being pervasive in many immigrant communities. It gets reinforced when you have scenarios like the ones that impacted the Southeast Asian and Cambodian community, where folks found themselves being retroactively being deported after 9-11.
For those who don't know, a law went into effect that allowed immigration to look at the criminal records of Southeast Asians and then deport them. So you had folks who may have committed a small crime like smoking weed when they were a teenager suddenly being deported at age 35 for that particular crime. With new vigilante groups like the Minute Men and growing hostility directed at Mexican and other Latino immigrants, you can best believe that the "Stop Snitching" code is in effect.
The formation of the brutal Irish gangs which were depicted in the movie "Gangs of New York" and were initially formed as a line of defense against those who were here before them could only have come about because of some sort of "Stop Snitching" rule.
The Italian immigrants that followed the Irish and found themselves on the receiving end of brutality formed what we now call the Mafia. Those early manifestations of La Cosa Nostra took the whole "Stop Snitching" code to new heights. In fact, one may argue that the popularity of "Godfather," "Goodfella" and "Soprano" type movies is what has made "Stop Snitching" so popular to younger generations that were raised on such films.
But moving beyond movies, try and see how much information one will get for particular crimes in alleged "wise guy" enclaves like Howard Beach (Queens) where the late Mafia Don John Gotti used to live or in places like Bensonhurst (Brooklyn). "Don't snitch" is a time honored tradition with fatal consequences. Do you think folks were eager to call the police and drop dimes on Mr. Gotti?
We can go on and on citing examples, but let's move forward to where we find the irony in the "Stop Snitching" debate. Let's talk about the history and current activities and posture often taken by the one taxpayer supported institution that has lived and died by the "Stop Snitching" rule.
That's right. I'm talking about the police. The Blue Wall of Silence in many departments holds more weight and in many cases has been stronger than all the "Stop Snitching" t-shirts and rap records combined.
At least within Hip Hop and in various neighborhoods, you have folks who will give up the information for a price either to get revenge on someone who wronged them but was doing dirt or to curry a favor. That has always happened.
During the numerous slave rebellions, it was always a "snitch" who called the master, let him know what was up and got the slave revolt stopped. Within the Mob there was always a Sammy the Bull type cat who would go and squeal on his partners.
In my mind as I'm sure it is in most people's minds, you have to go back to the 1970s and look at a cop like Frank Serpico, who was willing to "snitch" on other cops. Of course, when guys like Serpico spoke before the Knapp Commission and snitched on his fellow officers, we used words like "whistle-blower" to describe what he was doing. But most of us are sure that the rank and file members probably called him a snitch and reinforced the "Stop Snitching" rule.
Since then, you have to look long and hard to find cops "snitching" on other cops. On the few occasions you do find cops testifying against other cops in criminal cases, it's only as the result of a plea bargain.
Now, when I talk to officers, they tell me the Blue Wall has crumbled and that police officers routinely speak out about corruption and brutality within the ranks. That may or may not be so. What I do know is that if you ask the average cat on the street to cite some examples, they couldn't. Heck, even if I approach police watch type organizations they can't name a lot of snitching cops.
The end result is this: We have hundreds of police brutality incidents taking place every year, with very few convictions on the criminal level and those responsible getting a slap on the wrist at most. The reason for this is because the "Stop Snitching" code is in effect.
To further complicate things, let's talk about police corruption and how the "Don't Snitch" rule runs the gauntlet, because you have guys on the corner who may be dealing drugs who give a kickback to the cops so they will turn the other way. We all know how the Mafia and other organized crime syndicates have long had dirty cops on payroll. My question is who is snitching on them? And is it wise to snitch to a guy who is protecting the person you're snitching on?
Just like the police often complain that they can't get a conviction or solve important crimes because no one will come forth, well, the same can be said for the police. You never see a cop going off to jail for unjustly beating down or in some cases shooting and killing someone, because, as is depicted in popular TV cop shows like "The Shield," no one is willing to "snitch."
The other day 20 police officers were suspended in San Francisco for making offensive videos lampooning ethnic groups and women. Had it not been posted on the Internet and accidentally uncovered, we would've never known about how our tax dollars are being spent.
In other words, no police officer who is charged with protecting and serving the community was willing to come forth and "snitch" and talk about these offensive videos that were being made. If anything, they've acted just as they have when countless brothers and sisters from the hood have been brutalized. They close ranks.
If you think I'm picking on the police too much, let's look at other areas where the "Stop Snitching" rule applies. Now we all know that there were some glaring discrepancies in how this war in Iraq got started. We all suspect that there was some blatant manipulation of important data. We all suspect that there were other agendas in place, and we all suspect that there were some shady misdeeds going on inside the White House.
However, because the "Don't Snitch" rule is in full effect at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave., all we are left with is our suspicions. Who knows? Maybe George Bush bought a bunch of "Stop Snitching" t-shirts and gave them out to his staff to remind them about the importance of his "G" code.
If you have misgivings about George Bush, try getting somebody within Vice President Dick Cheney's office to snitch. It's damn near impossible. Of course we have to keep in mind that words like "snitch" aren't used when we bring this conversation to the level of politics. We use words like "testify," "leak" and, once again, "whistle-blower."
The other thing to keep in mind is that just like snitches tend to suffer consequences on the streets, so do whistle-blowers. It's called being blackballed or "not getting funding" or in some cases being reassigned.
Lastly, on this topic of "snitching," let's not forget how it plays out in media circles. Anybody who has ever worked in commercial radio knows all to well about the "Don't Snitch" rule. That's why you rarely see industry insiders talking about sensitive topics like payola or contest riggings. To do so would result in you being blackballed or even in violation of your contract or severance package.
Many media contracts have this little clause forbidding you to talk about "inside trade secrets." Of course, one could challenge the constitutionality of those provisions, especially if a law was broken, but who has the time, money and resources to go that route?
Also related to media is the fiasco involving the outing of CIA agent Valerie Plame by so-called esteemed newspaper columnist Robert Novak. He has held true to the "Don't Snitch" rule and refused to reveal his sources as did fellow journalist Judith Miller, who actually went to jail because she refused to snitch even after being subpoenaed. What's interesting to note is that people like Miller actually get praised in many circles for not snitching.
My overall point is that we have to keep in mind the call to "Stop Snitching" has been around for a long time and in many communities. The only thing that Hip Hoppers' did was make some damn t-shirts.
But if you ask me, I say folks will be willing to open up and "sing like a canary" when they see some of those who sit in the halls of power or who wear badges are willing to do the same with some sort of consistency. Until then I'm gonna have to chalk up this upset about "Stop Snitching" shirts being sold as just plain old haterism coming from a group of people who wish they had thought of the idea first …
In closing, I'm gonna leave you with a quote from my homegirl Lydia, who holds it down over at Quannum Records, which is home to Blackalicious and Lyrics Born: "The idea that a 'stop snitching' t-shirt or lyrical content in commercially successful hip hop songs is generating a new era of silence in communities of color and thus further hindering police/authorities from cultivating 'safety' and 'ending violence' is retarded. In my opinion, this is just another example of people outside the community attempting to further marginalize people of color by insinuating that the community itself is responsible for crimes by not sharing info and ratting out their peers.
"It's so easy to blame lack of cooperation for the fact that police, the federal government and local government have no idea what's wrong, why it's wrong or how to fix the fundamental issues within the communities suffering. asking people to 'snitch' is a lazy man's solution to a much, much larger problem."
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