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The exclusivity of snitchin’

by everardo carvajal Monday, Jul. 09, 2007 at 1:42 PM

Recent attention to urban attitudes has painted a picture of a wild urban frontier. The idea of snitching isn’t limited by geography, income level, or time period. For some people, the ‘Stop snitchin’ idea is another fantasy of how the other half lives.

The phrase, ‘Stop Snitchin’, the slogan of a few has gained a bit of attention recently. ‘Stop snitchin’ has been understood to mean ‘do not relay information to authorities’, in its strictest interpretation, there are no instances when one should assist law enforcement. You might remember a similar idea from your childhood, “don’t tell”, or perhaps, “no tattle telling”; similarly these phrases served as warnings about the negative repercussions of snitching or telling. The most common use of ‘stop snitchin’ aims to degrade, intimidate, or threaten individuals that assist police and courts to arrest, detain, or prosecute an alleged criminal; again, this idea is similar to the way be interacted on the playground. However, those that have written on the notion have chosen to characterize or mythologize this idea as a specific attitude exclusive to low income minorities. Stop snitchin is sometimes described by insiders and outsiders alike as a “street code of ethics” or “street code”. This attitude is neither exclusive to the past, nor is it exclusive to minorities and urban neighborhoods.

The ‘Stop snitchin’ attitude was present during childhood. In some sense, we can understand ‘Stop snitching’ as setting protocol. For one thing, the main component is that it emphasizes not ‘cooperating’ with police or other authorities. This “code” is not new; among people of equal status, the threat of established authority, legal or otherwise, can usually influence our actions. For example, remember when your sibling or classmate would threaten to tell the teacher, proctor, or your Mom? Given the threat, it was likely that you didn’t cause the potential mischief, that is, unless you weren’t afraid of the repercussions. Nevertheless, at some point during childhood, for any number of reasons, you probably adhered to this rule rather strictly. Perhaps your brother wouldn’t tell that you chewed all of Mom’s gum because he knew that you could also report his own tom foolery. One way the rule stood back then was “if you don’t tell, I won’t either.” Or, ‘I’ll keep my mouth shut if you will.’ Follow the rule….and we’ll both be free …don’t follow the rule, and you’re also getting pinched.

Aside from the fact that as children we reasoned along the lines of the ‘Stop snitchin’ protocol, we should understand that the childhood code and the ‘Stop snitchin’ ideas don’t diverge on principle. For example, both rules rely upon rather simple moral reasoning where the end result matters more than the means. As children, we knew that if we were to tell, we’d be subject to certain repercussions. Urbanites remain subject to those wiling to harm anyone who is so much as seen as cordial with the authorities. In both cases, the repercussions would likely to result in misfortune by way of a spanking from our parents or a beating from an advocate of ‘Stop snitchin’. There is a fairly obvious element of our own well being that can factor into whether or not we will keep our mouths shut or sing like a bird. Someone is not likely to divulge information if they are the ones that ultimately suffer. We’d have to be ignorant not see that this attitude didn’t end during childhood.

Chances are that you still operate by the same principle and don’t tell for various reasons. This attitude can be found nearly everywhere. At work, you know that if you reported the wrongdoings of your boss or lazy co-worker, you would suffer; and rather than become the moral beacon without a paycheck, you’d much rather ignore the fact that your boss or coworker can definitely contribute more to the team. In fact, fear of reprisal is the reason for the ‘whistleblower laws’. The Federal ‘whistleblower’ laws protect people from corporate thuggery and cronyism. The existence of a federal law to protect people from ‘doing the right thing’ and reporting their employers or superiors means that people in office and people in the suburbs are also subject to reprisals.

Unfortunately, a special status has been given to the prominence of the “no snitching” attitude. It is packaged and written about as exclusive to low-income folks and persons of color. Several commentaries and opinion pieces have argued that people are “stuck” in their “ghetto” attitude, and that only when they “do as they are supposed to do” will they be better off. In other words, those writers nearly blame the poor for urban crime, and the inability of police to solve crimes or prevent future ones. In the end, ‘Stop snitchin’ is not new, it isn’t limited to urban neighborhoods, nor to rappers. Chances are that you have seen several things that you could’ve reported, but you didn’t. Think twice the next time you hear a myth about the “hood”; chances are the given phenomenon is quite common rather than an attribute of the poor.

everardo carvajal

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Listed below are the 10 latest comments of 6 posted about this article.
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Its a way to fight the Bush Regime! k.hawley Monday, Jul. 09, 2007 at 4:34 PM
thank you for this Common State Enemy Monday, Jul. 09, 2007 at 5:11 PM
Not Street Code mananimous Tuesday, Jul. 10, 2007 at 8:41 PM
Not Street Code mananimous Tuesday, Jul. 10, 2007 at 8:41 PM
No honor among rug dealers! Jayster Thursday, Jul. 12, 2007 at 8:10 PM
Snitches vs Whistle Blowers Sheepdog Sunday, Jul. 15, 2007 at 5:08 AM

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