Please, do snitch!
I found after that last post on cell phones that it took Herculean effort to try to crack a joke. Couldn't do it. So since then I've just been easing back into my groove by focusing on the element of my gig that pays the bills: reporting.
I'm wrapping up one story on child custody today (hopefully) that I was working on for weeks before my bereavement leave, and I have another on political partisanship among 30- and 40-somethings that I'll be knocking out early next week. And for those of you who need a good laugh, I'm working on a video project in which I will take on my nemesis - knock down furniture, complete with unclear assembly instructions - in time trials. That video story is scheduled to post on MiamiHerald.com the weekend after Thanksgiving.
On a personal note, Mrs. B is doing very well. We're getting there. Things are looking up. Etc. Etc. As the kid's say, it's all good...or is on it's way to being so.
So without further ado, back to blogging.
A colleague of mine, Andrea Robinson, wrote an article about the "Stop Snitching" movement last week, explaining that this "movement" appears to be gaining ground again and that it's frustrating local law enforcement. The next day, the mother of the late rapper Jam Master Jay, of Run-DMC fame, spoke out about the "Stop Snitching" movement hindering the solution of her son's murder. If you're not aware, "stop snitching" is a bit of tough guy slang that discourages witnesses to violent crimes from telling the police what they saw.
Some folks call it hip-hop/rap jargon. Some folks are ballsy enough to call it a black thing. But if you know your American pop culture history then you know the notion of "stop snitching" goes back to gangster movies from the Prohibition era in which white characters with names like Johnny the Nose and Frankie the Chin would declare "I ain't talkin!" or "I didn't see nothin'!"
We even encourage "stop snitching" in kids. Think about it. What happened when your older sibling smacked you in the head and you ran crying to mom or dad? What did your folks say? "Don't be a tattle tale!" In other words, "Suck it up and deal with the fact that you got assaulted, because your silence is more admirable than your assailant's behavior is distasteful!"
Still, in recent years the movement has been bolstered, unfortunately, by its commercial promotion in some rap music. An artist in Baltimore several years ago even made a widely distributed documentary-type video in which "snitches" were lambasted. At least one professional athlete gleefully appeared in the video. T-shirts bearing the phrase sold like hot cakes too.
Aside from the immorality of seeing one person harm another and not making an effort to help set things right by reporting the perpetrator, here's my problem with this movement: Not "snitching" does not help the depressed neighborhoods where so much violent crime takes place. It does not bring residents closer together. It does not prevent further violent crime.
Not snitching helps one person and one person only: the person who allegedly committed the crime. No doubt he appreciates you keeping what you witnessed to yourself. But what are you getting out of it?
A buddy of mine attempted to answer that rhetorical question with this history reminder: Back in the day, waaaaaaay back in the day, when poor people in depressed communities (very often minority-populated) declined to tell police anything it was 'cause they had a reasonable belief that a criminal suspect would not be given due process. Let's not forget that in some parts of this country, as recently as 40 years ago mob "justice" went unchecked. Turn over a kid who allegedly stole a loaf of bread, and your local sheriff may well hang that kid or shoot him just because. Turn over a kid who allegedly whistled at a woman who was the wrong color, and your local sheriff and friends may well hang that kid or shoot him. So fear of police for all the wrong reasons in many cases was legitimate back then.
It's a powerful argument, but like I told my buddy the difference between then and now is way back when, those suspects who couldn't count on fair treatment from the cops were not tearing their neighborhoods apart. These days? The guys who are not being snitched on, aren't taking their neighbors' silence as a sign from God that they have a second (or third, or fourth, or fifth...) chance to clean up their acts and do the right thing. Instead they're taking it as a sign that since no one will tell on them, their drug/gang/violent activity can continue as usual.
Fear of reprisal from alleged criminals is also a fair argument to not snitching. A woman in Baltimore's West End called police repeatedly several years ago to report neighborhood drug dealers doing business on her block. And several times they got arrested. But the dealers always got out. And each time they threatened her. Finally, one dealer got out and fire-bombed the woman's home. She and her kids died in the blaze.
It's easy for me to say this, 'cause I don't have neighborhood thugs menacing me. But at some point folks have to take a stand, weigh the future they're leaving for their kids or younger siblings and just do the right thing, for no bigger reason than it's the right thing.
And as cultural movements go, the first thing we can do is stop referring - even casually and even jokingly - to people who point out alleged criminals as "snitches."
Second? Until we excise that word from our vocabularies in the context of reporting violent criminals, then let's all be snitches.