To snitch or not to snitch, a followup discussion


Of all the posts I have written during my relatively brief blogging career, not one has come even close to generating as much discussion – or as many views – as the one I wrote earlier this week about the problems I have with the ‘Don’t snitch’ code of the streets that is now proudly displayed on so many t-shirts and hats throughout the ‘hoods of America.

First of all, I’d like to thank all of you who took the time to post your responses to the article. Your interest in the subject matter and your willingness to be up front and honest about your views – both pro and con – is much appreciated.

So I figured I’d better write a follow-up. Although I still have a problem with the code, I think there are a few things I need to clear up. There are also some positions I was forced to re-think.

My problem with the whole “Don’t Snitch” campaign and code is more what I sense to be the underlying intent behind the message. This message seems to be that it is better for us to let the predators in our neighborhoods roam free out of some perverted and misplaced loyalty to the ‘hood than it is to cooperate with the police and do whatever needs to be done to get rid of them as quickly and efficiently as possible so we can once again walk to the corner store to get a gallon of milk without fear of getting jumped.  For me, it is extremely difficult to comprehend – let alone embrace – a self-destructive mentality that poses as self-love.

But a comment from  Dr. Lester Spence shook me loose from my anger long enough to make me examine some of my opinions and analyses. He forced me to look past my outrage long enough to acknowledge what I know to be a fact that should have been included in my original post. Dr. Spence, who also said he suspects the ‘don’t snitch’ thing began on his home turf in Baltimore (I wasn’t aware of that), pointed out that there have been more than a few cases of neighborhood ‘heroes’ who stood up to the thugs in their midst and went to the police – only to wind up dead or severely injured later. Too often the police were either no help at all, or those who went to the police faced swift and brutal retaliation from the local thug network for their efforts.

It’s true. Going to the police is not always the solution – especially when the history between black folks and law enforcement is ripe with examples demonstrating that the police have frequently been part of the problem in the ‘hood – or even beyond the ‘hood if you’ve still got that ‘hood skin tone that simply won’t wash off. So I’m forced to confess that this is an unfortunate and ugly reality that cannot be circumvented.

However. I would  submit that the best way to resolve this problem is for us to rally our communities and put bone-crunching pressure on our locally elected representatives and our police departments to rectify the situation.

Today. Not tomorrow.

These police officers who are letting us down are paying their mortgages and car notes with money earned from our tax dollars. We pay them, just as we pay our city council members and our mayors. We need to remember that we employ these people and that they work for us,  not the other way around. If they’re not getting the job done then it’s time they were fired. Otherwise, what are we paying them for?

Second, we need to acknowledge that not all police officers are the enemy. I know this can be hard to do, but it’s essential. We need to get to know who the officers are that are working in our neighborhood. Several times when things were going haywire in our Detroit neighborhood, my wife and I had no problem calling the cops. Most times they not only showed up but they handled the problem right quick and in a hurry. And it wasn’t even a murder, if you can believe that. Once, we had some idiots out in the middle of the street in the middle of the night shouting about how someone was gonna get shot if they didn’t get the fuck outta somebody’s face ‘n shit. So we figured rather than wait for the shot to miss its target and go through a neighbor’s window – or our own – we’d better do something about it. Two cop cars showed up in 15 minutes and we haven’t had a problem like that since.

We also have a strong neighborhood association, and it wasn’t that long ago when several representatives from the police who patrol our area were invited to speak and discuss how to better protect ourselves from the particular crimes that were particularly prevalent in our area. We also got the direct number of the guy in charge of community relations for our neighborhood so we know who to call if something isn’t working and we’re not getting the kind of police response we need.

No, the crime hasn’t magically disappeared since that little get-together, but I don’t think I’m the only one who feels a little better knowing the actual name and number of a cop I can call if things get funky. And knowing that he’ll actually respond. And knowing that we’re actually getting something for these insanely high taxes we’re paying in a city struggling to tread water.

And I hope I’m not the only one who feels better about fostering an improved relationship with the police as a means of addressing neighborhood crime issues rather than buying a t-shirt, a cap, and a slogan.

And then the deadly silence…


~ by Keith A. Owens on April 27, 2007.

4 Responses to “To snitch or not to snitch, a followup discussion”

  1. So I’m literally in the middle of a conference on black men’s mental health (in baltimore), and the speaker just asked a question about the snitching phenomenon…which as a sidenote began here when a drug dealer made a video about not snitching that featured Baltimore star Carmelo Anthony.

    One of the first people to respond was a sister whose father was a police officer. Each and every time she contacted the police for an issue…they accused her of CAUSING it. Her car was stolen? She was accused of having her car stolen for insurance. The third person to speak (I was the second) noted that there are a number of police officers that are themselves on the take. So as soon as you open your mouth your identity is leaked to the people you are speaking about.

    So we’ve got to be very careful in responding to these flashpoint issues with our “old school” common sense. Because that common sense only succeeds in blaming black people for systemic problems.

    (Now after saying all of this I’ve got to say that I’ve actually had very good personal relationships with police as an adult. Hell, within the last six months I’ve been stopped SEVERAL times by police and they had me dead to rights. Every time I got off. Every time. But I know that I’m not normal. Not only am I non-threatening because I’m older than 35 and slender, I carry myself with respectful authority because of my class status. And on top of that I am almost positive that my status as a Hopkins professor pops up in their database somehow.)

  2. I was taught by the former police chief of my city, and several criminal court judges. In some of mine criminal justice classes were police officers and want to be future police officers. And just being a part of the major many thought you wanted to be a part of the funnel system.

    The theories they shared about who was and where crime was focused mainly on young African-Americans males and single mothers. How they targeted African-Americans for stops when more than one was in a vehicle. How those who were mistreated and were incarcerated where conned into dropping cases. How those who were considered a pest were left to hang when they called to complain about crime in their neighborhood. How to play Mr. friendly police to get a person to volunatry allow the police to search a vehicle or home. How police show up in a neighborhood and talk to a person, and the criminal thinks the person they are talking to is a “snitch”.

    It becomes a strategy or game in harassment by police instead of solving crime. The whole point is discourage folks from “bothering” the police. By painting folks as a “snitch”, folks become targets by criminals.

    I have no problem calling the police. But I fully understand the tactic they use to discourage folke. One young man came through by back door with the intent to do somethin. Now, it is hard to break into my house, because most points of entry are visible and pretty secure. I do not believe in bars on my windows or doors. I have steel doors that one can break a leg if they were depending on their legs to kick in the door. Plus, the fact that I’m in and out and most of the criminals who lived in the neighborhoods are not sure when I am home. But this one day, I was upstairs and thought it was the dryer making too much noise. By the time, I figured it was not the dryer. I made it to the top of the stairs to listen. I knew which door the intruder had entered. I called the police, while I listen to the intruder move about casing the downstairs. I am trying to figure out which room I will use as a safe room to wait for the police.

    The whole time I am on the phone. I am telling them that I am in the house with the intruder. I am upstairs and the intruder is downstairs. I live only 15 minutes if that far from the police station. I am in the heart of the city, house clearly marked.

    After a few times too many the question about where is the intruder, begin to bother me. I tell the operator it’s been awhile I don’t hear sirens. They are on the way, yet I still hear no sirens, nothing. The light bulbs goes off, after I finally had to challenge the intruder. The police were not coming.

    The folks on the phone were waiting to hear gunshot. I am nonviolent.

    I told the operator that I was on my way down my stairs. She pleaded with me to stay put. I hung up the phone. As I made it to my kitchen where the intruder would have had to enter. Outside, in my backyard ,are a good 7-10 police with weapons of mass destruction. Not a single police car in sight.

    I thought I was in a war zone. As I reached my door, one police officers started yelling at me. I was directed to get my hands in the air. After they were sure that I was the homeowner and the intruder had indeed left my home, the supervisor said, are you sure you and your boyfriend did not get into a fight? That’s right the supervisor.

    My doors are steel doors, but the windows are double pane glass which took some hammering to get through, so it was obvious that it was someone determined to get in.

    But not a single word asking if I was hurt. Not a one. Nor whether or not me being able todescribe the intruder. Nothing.

    Several of the police officers thought it was funny as well as the supervisor thought it was funny. I understand how some police officers can be completely mean spirited. I get a big kick out of dropping a few names that send them into close attention. And I give them a few choice words and remind them of their duty to take information rather than give information.

    But my experience is not unique. It is a mode of operation and attitude. The attitude let them kill off each other and stop bothering us.

    And more folks need to hold elected officials and those who are in charge of police officers, which is the police chief and the sheriff.

    Police know who I am. I am considered a threat, simply because I expect police to do their job. I have even gone to jail for speaking up, which is in violation of our state constitution. So, it does not matter if you are a law abiding citizen. If a single police is having a bad day, and if you are the unlucky person to cross that officer path you can end up in jail, charged with a made up crime, or dead.

    In closing, I remember the first day of class, the police chief said, police have the right to use coercive force…deadly force. Check out the movie “Crash”, as to why you don’t what to be the one having to deal with a police that can’t tell the good guys from the bad guys. Or just don’t care. Police love the shirts that say don’t snitch,

  3. […]  Read more here… […]

  4. […] snitch” street code was – and is – killing black kids. Adults too. And as I mentioned in a follow-up post, that turned out to be one of the most controversial posts I ever put on this blog. To date I […]

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