Sunday, October 11, 2009
7168: The Cons Of Snitching.
From The Chicago Tribune…
Snitch and you’re a dead man
By John W. Fountain
Snitching can get you killed.
That much I understood growing up in the ‘hood. In kindergarten, I was taught not be a tattletale. But to tell on bad guys, on the criminally minded, especially those who breathe bloody murder, is a more serious matter than being a tattling toddler.
Lately, particularly in light of the senseless violence that continues to claim innocent lives in Chicago, I have heard the lambasting of the good people of terrorized neighborhoods for not readily coming forward with information on murders. I have seen some shaking their heads, shrugging their shoulders and essentially blaming those unwilling—at least reluctant—to tell, as being in some way complicit.
Some even seem roiled that someone might witness a murder and be reluctant to come forward to police. And, in fact, they convey the sense that those unwilling to be witnesses are somehow less human, less feeling and less willing to assume responsibility, less eager to play a role in helping turn their neighborhoods around.
In my experience growing up in an impoverished Chicago community like those under siege, it boils down to an issue of trust. And many who live in the city’s most murderous neighborhoods—who have also witnessed police and political corruption and a trail of broken promises—simply don’t trust the authorities enough to come forward. By doing so, they could be laying their lives on the line.
It isn’t that people don’t want to tell. They do. And it isn’t that they aren’t concerned about their neighborhoods. They are. But to come forward is to risk everything, even in a world where “safety” is always relative.
In poor black neighborhoods, we have seen the revolving door of criminal justice. We have come to understand that there is a new breed of serial killer—young men who kill and kill and kill again. And we also know this: that when the feds seek witnesses in high-profile cases to bring down notorious mobsters and crime families, they at least have the good sense to offer witness protection. They understand what’s at risk for those who come forward.
In my old West Side neighborhood, “body snatchers” are real. There, I have known of masked gunmen to creep upon their prey in the still of night as they sit on a porch unsuspectingly, to kick in doors and hold people at gunpoint, to kidnap, maim and murder. From a child, I have witnessed gunplay and gangs and drug dealers and pimps in shiny Cadillacs, glaring like the sun, and the police drive by street corners—where hustlers hawk their wares—and do nothing.
The Law—the police—in certain neighborhoods isn’t necessarily the law. Once the flashing white-and-blues disappeared, we understood that we were at the mercy of the lawless, left to protect ourselves by any means necessary. For some, our insurance was God. For others, it was the gun. For others still, a little bit of both. But seldom did we consider the police.
Some students have alleged that a police squad car arrived at the scene of the recent beating death of 16-year-old Derrion Albert, though no officers intervened to save him. If that is true, what measure of protection can anyone who witnessed it expect they might receive as a “snitch”?
Given the historic marginalization of black and brown life—and death—why would one think that losing their life for having been brave enough to speak out might somehow make the difference? Why wouldn’t they simply become like the scores of murder victims whose names don’t even make the newspaper’s police blotter?
And yet, I have heard them—politicians, police and pundits—reviling the people of these neighborhoods for not coming forward. And I think to myself, “Easy for them to say. Let them lay aside their bodyguards, their chauffeur-driven limousines and their legal sidearm, and let’s see just how brave they’d be.” Instead we all leave the ‘hood and go safely home.
Whenever gunfire thundered in the night in my old neighborhood, I was grateful when the scene was blocks away, relieved that any blood spilled had not come nigh my front door. Except in a way, I always realized it was never that far away. That every evil that happened in my neighborhood, in one sense or another, always happened to us all.
I also remember wishing there was someone we could tell, someone who might be ready, willing and able to do something to end the violence and crime, in essence, to be able to snitch in a way that would not jeopardize our lives and our family’s once the bad guys learned we had ratted them out.
What would happen if we diminished the risk and created a greater sense of assurance that the law would do its job in actually making the streets safe as well as protecting those who decide to turn killers in?
They still might not be lining up to testify. But I’ll bet you’d find some willing to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.
John W. Fountain is a professor of journalism at Roosevelt University and author of “True Vine: A Young Black Man’s Journey of Faith, Hope and Clarity.”