Law in Contemporary Society
I liked Kaleb's idea of adding a disclaimer to his paper, so I decided to write one myself. This paper is not academic in the slightest. It is, however, a topic that my friends and I have spoken about more than once and one that is of interest to me. I figured that since we are given freedom with these essays, I might as well take advantage of it.

Stop Snitchin' The Movement: A Pop Culture Fad or a Subconscious Call for Protection?

-- By NicoleMedham - 14 Feb 2008

I. Origins of the Stop Snitchin' Movement

The notion that one shouldn’t be one of the first in line to help police officers piece together the puzzles of many criminal acts isn’t new. Many of us have seen older movies where witnesses to crimes have their families threatened in order to ensure their silence. The idea that one who talks to police is a snitch seemed to become more main-stream in 2004 when a video entitled “Stop Snitching!” began to circulate out of Maryland. In the video, participants stared into the camera and threatened the lives of those who would dare to talk to authorities about drug activities and violence plaguing their neighborhoods. Over the past four years, the movement against snitching has gained even more momentum with the creation of websites and merchandising opportunities through the creating of “Stop Snitchin’” hats and t-shirts. The apparel has come under fire from the government, notably through Boston mayor Thomas Menino’s plan to confiscate those items from those seen wearing them. Consequently, this lead to the involvement of the American Civil Liberties Union, which claimed that the confiscation of these items were in direct violation of rights protected by the 5th and 14th Amendments.

II. The Movement and Urban Communities

Hip Hop artist Cam’ron was featured on an episode of 60 Minutes about three years ago. There, he told interviewer Anderson Cooper that if he knew that he lived next door to a serial killer, he would simply find another place to reside instead of contacting authorities. Unfortunately, this attitude is not uncommon in urban communities. To be sure, the popularity of hip hop music and the attitudes of camaraderie that some fans feel with the artists have helped to spread the arguably negative message. Additionally, urban community residents have historically held a high level of mistrust for police authorities, this mistrust often founded in issues of race and perceived unfairness with regards a police policy that sometimes boarders on act first, ask questions later. The animosity is so great that even those who are against crime and want to see their communities become a better place see cooperating with police in a negative light. It appears that until a measure of trust is regained, even those who do not care about being labeled a snitch will continue to find fault with the idea of cooperating with police.

III. Nonsense or Planning Ahead?

Cam’Ron’s example of a serial killer living next door lies at one end of a spectrum. However, is the idea of not uttering a word if you know something about a criminal act nonsensical? To some, this is a fairly black and white issue: if you know something or see something, then you should take it upon yourself to say something and alert the proper authorities. There is a belief that as a person living in society, one should want to ensure that their society is safe from those who would try to subvert the laws that said society is grounded in. Yet, the issue of going to authorities is not black and white.

Granted, there are those who chose not share information because of the perceived stigma against it. No one wants to be labeled as a snitch. However, the desire to not be seen as an informant is secondary to the fact that often times there are clear negative consequences to talking to police officers about what you know. More to the point, one may die for something as simple as telling officials what they saw, something so simple that many in society think should just be a given. The United States has its own Federal Witness Protection Program, geared towards those who have agreed to testify and give pertinent information in federal cases. States like New York have smaller versions of the federal witness protection program, yet these programs have nowhere near the funding that the federal program is equipped with. Smaller programs like these have to be more selective about how they chose to use their limited monetary resources—thus, they cannot protect everyone whose life or family may be threatened as a result of them doing what society has deemed to be the “right” thing.

IV: Conclusion

It appears that until each state is afforded with fully funded witness protection programs and services, the lack of community participation in police investigations will continue. While the idea that one shouldn’t be a snitch is juvenile, one cannot deny that fear for one’s life is convincing rationale against talking to police. Illustrating this point is the senseless death of Angela Dawson, a Chicago resident, whose house was firebombed. Dawson lost her life along with the lives of her five children after alerting authorities about illegal activities in her neighborhood. Until police departments, and by extension the United States’ government, can do their very best to ensure that all witness are protected, the Stop Snitchin’ movement will continue to gain followers daily so as not to succumb to the same fate as Dawson.

  • I don't understand the conflation in this essay of two apparently separate issues: refusal of cooperation with police based on identification with anti-police sentiment, and fear of cooperation with police based on retaliation. Because these are different in their nature, motivation, distribution, and effect, it would seem sensible to analyze and discuss them separately. A third issue, concern about police relationship to immigration authorities, might have been identified. Each can be thought about from a policy-maker's perspective: full-scale witness protection programs are unnecessary if tip lines are credibly run and criminals have not penetrated the police. Baltimore-style neighborhood intimidation has to be dealt with by significant organized crime prosecution and interdiction efforts, which sensible Justice Departments know will be necessary in response to the occasional attempts by gangs to attack the basis of rule of law. Anti-corruption efforts and witness protection are therefore intimately connected. Immigrant concerns, on the other hand, are best dealt with by outreach and strict observance of "don't ask" policies. The anti-police attitudes in Black America and its culture are the most intractable of all, I agree. But they won't be more easily dealt with by conflating them with other problems.


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r7 - 12 Jan 2009 - 23:00:25 - IanSullivan
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