Live Free or Die Snitching: Informants vs. Criminals

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Stop Snitchin’ – a policy of refusing to inform on criminal activity encourages further crime. Image by Decoded Science

Unsurprisingly, criminals don’t like it much when a witness comes forward with information that results in conviction for a crime, and they tend to react violently when it happens… This is the basis for the term, “Snitches get Stitches.”

The phrase serves as  a warning to anyone who ‘snitches,’ or who would even think of sharing information with the authorities. Those who violate the ‘keep quiet’ code will be physically harmed – or even killed.

Evolution of Anti-informant Attitudes

The anti-snitch attitude was originally geared towards criminals who turned on their peers for lighter sentences, but now the anti-informant attitude has evolved.

Based on the new code, anyone, victim or perpetrator, who gives information to the police should expect a painful end. There are two areas that seem to be contributing factors to the ‘stop snitching’ movement: a lack of trust towards police, and the influence of anti-authority music and media outlets.

The Evergreen Journal pointed out that the Stop Snitching movement that has taken hold was started by Rapper Tangg da Juice with his “Stop Snitchin’” song of 1999.  Then, in 2004,  a DVD circulated around Baltimore, which showed drug dealers threatening bodily harm to anyone who snitched.

Today, teenagers, young adults, the middle-aged, and seniors in many communities have endorsed and follow the no-snitch policy.  These people have become a part of the disturbing movement that avoids the police. Even if they are witnesses to a crime, they will remain silent.

You Better Not Tell

This form of intimidation creates havoc in the criminal justice system, and it can start as early as in elementary school. On the playground or on the school buses, bullies attack and kids are afraid to speak up.  The Stop Snitching campaign is nothing new, it is an unspoken code of silence that exists in a lot of communities and has been going on for years.

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Snitches will get stitches – or bullet holes. Image courtesy of ICE

According to the U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Community Oriented Policing Services, the insidious message creates fear and intimidation among juveniles and young adults, and breaks down the trust between police and the citizens of these communities, making it harder for the police to solve and prevent crime.

That results in delays in the criminal justice system, and gives the criminals more cause to protect themselves through intimidation or threatening witnesses with violence.

Even though there is known distrust for the police in certain communities, there are people who want to cooperate with the police, but are afraid of reprisal. That internal conflict makes it harder for the police to prosecute the perpetrators, and makes it extremely difficult to provide any help for the community which is ripped apart by violence.

Hypocrisy on Higher Levels

Although those in authority preach the need to report criminal activity to the police, the community watch as people in high-level positions – politicians, doctors, lawyers, government officials and the police themselves – do not report the improper behavior of their colleagues. High-level officials protect one another, but community members are expected to snitch.

Frank Main of the Chicago Sun Times reported on an incident in which 17 year old Robert Tate was shot in the chest in the streets of Chicago. Tate knew who shot him, yet even while he lay on the street dying, he refused to name his attacker. When an officer approached the dying Tate and asked him if he knew who shot him Tate replied, “I know him but I ain’t telling you s***”.  He took it to the grave.

Snitching vs. Informing: Trust and Education

One of the biggest challenges that law enforcement faces is the lack of trust for the police – they must break that barrier to establish trust and respect with the people in the community; no-snitch codes block the attempts to establish that relationship.

In an effort to combat this phenomenon, law enforcement has partnered with a few agencies to educate and counteract the stop snitching message. They have used the church, schools, community groups, victim advocacy groups and news media to communicate the various ways to anonymously relay information to the police, to avoid being intimidated, and take advantage of witness protection programs.

Media, Pop-culture, and Snitching

Pop-culture contributes hugely to the problem.  According to the  U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Community Oriented Policing Services, a number of entertainers and public figures advocate the No Snitching mentality. Examples:

  • An NBA player appeared on Baltimore’s Stop Snitching DVD.
  • Rapper Cam’ron was shot when thugs carjacked  his Lamborghini – he would not help the police identify the person who did it.
  • When Busta Rhyme’s bodyguard was shot in the presence of 50 people, no one saw a thing.
  • Musical lyrics by 50 Cent, Lil Kim and others stand behind the ‘no snitching’ code.

In addition, merchandise promotes the mentality. From clothing to bumper-stickers, to key rings, displaying “Stop Snitching,” “Snitches get Stitches,” “I’ll never tell,” or even t-shirts with bullet holes implying that snitches should be shot, are available online;  kids and young adults wear them proudly.

Public Outreach and Criminal Justice

Along with the public awareness and outreach programs that law enforcement has put in place in an effort to build community partnerships, publicizing prosecutions of those who spread the Stop Snitch message – and are convicted of their crimes – will send a strong message. Showing community members that ‘Stop the Snitchin’ is dangerous could be a helpful tool in an overarching strategy to combat violence and strengthen communities – which will help both communities and criminal justice in the long term.

The “Stop the Snitching” practice is very destructive, threatening social networks and undermining a community’s perception of the police. The fear of retribution is real. The snitch can or will get killed.  However, it is time that people awake from the “ I’ll never snitch” coma, gather up their strength, and take back their communities.

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