By Demetairs Bell
In 2004, a group of young Black men in Baltimore, Maryland championed a cause that would grant certain individuals the freedom to indulge in criminal activity with the expectation of silence from the Black community. This campaign gained national attention when the DVD “Stop Snitchin’” found its way into the hands of the FBI.
In the DVD there are participants in the illegal drug trade that openly brag about their sheer acts of violence, terrorism and intimidation against anyone who would inform authorities of their activities in an effort to get lighter sentences for their own criminal behavior. At one point in the footage a participant summed things up by stating, “Snitches get stitches.” This campaign also became a very profitable venture with the selling of t-shirts at mom & pop stores across the country that displayed the slogan “Stop Snitchin’.”
For decades, a wedge of mistrust and contrasting perspectives has existed between some law enforcement officials and the Black community. Law enforcement officials are baffled and often frustrated by the lack of cooperation from the Black community when crimes occur.
Members of the Black community have complained of a lack of protection from retribution once they decide to cooperate, and in some cases it has been reported that perpetrators seeking retribution were told where their victims could be found by law enforcement officials involved with the apprehension.
A fact that seems to be lost on law enforcement officials is that perpetrators seeking retribution don’t necessarily have to be on the streets to touch a person. Retribution can and often is ordered from behind bars.
Budget constraints are often cited as a reason for the lack of witness protection. Ever since the attacks on 9/11, the focus from the U.S. Defense Department has shifted to counter-terrorism and away from the “War on Drugs” that is primarily responsible for much of the inner-city crime, in essence giving participants in the illegal drug trade a free reign of terror.
There was a time when police officers pretty much knew everyone in the neighborhoods they patrolled, but in recent decades there has been a major disconnect due to many officers policing a community they themselves do not live in. This breeds a cavalier attitude toward inner-city crime, particularly when members of the communities they patrol refuse to cooperate.
The silence and lack of cooperation from members of the Black community was never aimed at making our community a safe haven for criminal activity. It’s largely due to fear of retribution by the perpetrators. In turn, those perpetrators have taken that silence and lack of cooperation with law enforcement officials and turned it into a false sense of bravado.
They really believe they’re “controlling” the inner city with their intimidation tactics, but they fail to realize their behavior is allowed because of who they’re intimidating. If the right people were affected by their behavior, their reign of terror would end with the snap of a finger as with all other crime that exists within the Black community.
What’s most frightening about this campaign is its target audience: young, impressionable Black children. The t-shirts were a smash hit in urban areas, worn with a badge of honor. Children want to fit in and often latch on to what’s “cool.” They fear being labeled squares or sell-outs if they report criminal activity, which can lead to alienation by their peers.
Those that champion the Stop Snitchin’ campaign are fully aware of this fact and use it against our youth. Adults can counter that by informing them that this isn’t an issue of popularity, it’s an issue of morality. What kind of human being would watch an innocent bystander get murdered and stand mute?
Don’t wait until an act of violence personally touches your life before you decide to do what’s right. Law enforcement agencies need to lobby for witness protection if cooperation is expected. Let’s stand tall and send the message that criminal behavior is not welcomed here.
Demetairs Bell lives in North Minneapolis. He welcomes reader responses to firstname.lastname@example.org.