On Snitchin'


Per the piece I have posted today, David Doddridge, the ex-LAPD cop and narcotics officer I interviewed for the article also chatted with me about a few other issues. I've posted the entire interview on my personal blog.

Also, a word about the "Stop Snitchin'" campaigns, and the backlash against them: I think the whole debate sort of misses the point.

The Stop Snitchin' movement's resonance ought to raise some real questions about how we police drug crimes, questions journalists like Anderson Cooper don't bother to look into when they air some of the more outrageous comments from Stop Snitchin' advocates like Cam'ron. Why is it, for example, that some communities' mistrust of law enforcement is so pronounced that they'd rather violent crimes go unsolved—and continue to let perpetrators run free in their neighborhoods—than cooperate with the police? Seems to me that's a very serious problem, indicative of some pretty severe mistrust between the police and the communities they serve. What's behind that mistrust? How did it develop?

Perhaps it's because these communities have for years seen firsthand way the informant system fosters corruption and deceit, as the rest of the country is starting to see, in Atlanta and elsewhere. They don't trust police to use information properly, and they don't trust the police to protect them when they do cooperate. (Personal anecdote: I live in a fairly safe, somewhat trendy neighborhood. Just last fall, a state's witness in a drug case was shot in the head while waiting at a traffic light less than a mile from my house.)

Certainly when high-profile hip-hop artists push the Stop Snitchin' message, they're perpetuating a thug image that helps sell records. And that's regrettable. But the sentiment is real and it's pervasive, and not just among hip-hop artists and drug dealers. It exists because many communities in this country routinely see the types of abuses I discuss in today's article. The drug war has so poisoned many police-community relationships that the police can't get cooperation from witnesses to murders and rapes. You know, crimes with actual victims. Stop Snitchin' isn't the cause of that mistrust, it's a product of it.

At an ACLU conference on drug informants in Atlanta last March, I was taken aback when a rapper named Immortal Technique said (as Cam'ron would echo later in the Cooper interview) he wouldn't cooperate with the police under any circumstances, even if, for example, he'd witnessed an innocent old woman in his neighborhood get murdered. I still find that idea repugnant, of course. But what I think of it isn't really the point. The point is that that sentiment is out there, and there are real, troubling reasons why it's gaining momentum—reasons other than "those black people are just lawless heathens."

The same guy, Immortal Technique, repeated the comment a bit later in the conference, then added some food for thought: "Isn't the police 'blue wall of silence' the most successful stop snitchin' campaign in history?"