They once taught a class in American schools called "Civics." It instructed young Americans of their duties and privileges as citizens. It taught us that we were given the great privilege of voting, that we had the duty to serve in the armed forces when called, and that we had the responsibility to tell police if we witnessed a crime.
They may still teach this class. But if they do, its quaint discussion of the rights and duties of citizenship must elicit guffaws of laughter. After all, hardly anyone votes today but senior citizens, the public believes that only "saps" serve in the military, and "No Snitching" and "Snitches Get Stitches" are the rules of the street.
Witnesses have been intimidated by the bad guys since Cain slew Abel. But today, even victims are expected to keep their mouths shut or quite literally be branded a snitch by their neighbors.
In late June in the Phoenix area, a 38-year-old woman had the word "snitch" burned into her face from ear to mouth after she reportedly informed the police about a domestic violence case that resulted in her attackers' child being removed from their home. OK, she is allegedly a tweaker, but that doesn't mean that she deserved to have her face ruined. And by the way, if authorities are right on this one: Let's all pray that these folks never get their kid back.
The Phoenix-area branding incident involved whites and Hispanics, but the "No Snitching" movement is a part of hip-hop culture and prevalent in the African-American community.
In many inner city neighborhoods, even crime victims are afraid of telling the police what happened to them for fear of being labeled a "snitch." The most notorious example of this thinking was recently voiced by rap performer Cam'ron on "60 Minutes."
A carjacking victim back in 2005, Cam'ron did not report the crime to the police because it would hurt his street cred. So, Cam'ron, what do you think these guys did after they shot you? That's right, pal. They attacked somebody else, and you are as responsible for that crime as they are because you had the power to prevent it.
Cam'ron went on to say, "Where I come from, once word gets out that you've cooperated with the police, that only makes you a bigger target of criminal violence." So, Cam, let's get this straight: Instead of having the guts to use your influence and your riches to effect change that might help poor people coping with violence in their neighborhoods, you would rather pledge your allegiance to the prison code of "No Snitching." You're a class act, Cam.
"No Snitching" is not just a T-shirt slogan. It has a very real effect in the real world. In some inner city neighborhoods in this country, the closure rate for homicides is less than 10 percent. Some activists in these neighborhoods blame police for failure to solve these crimes, saying that you are lazy because you can only solve crimes when somebody snitches. People who make this argument obviously believe that "C.S.I." is a documentary. How in the world are you supposed to solve a crime without witnesses?
As a society, we need to do something to protect crime witnesses. Certainly, there are already laws against witness intimidation, but they need to be strengthened. Perhaps any kind of intimidation of a witness should be two strikes—that includes making verbal threats. As for killing a witness, anyone who gets convicted of that one needs to fry, because murdering a witness is actually killing the entire criminal justice system.
There are those who say that law enforcement needs to do a better job of protecting informants and witnesses. They are absolutely right. But more importantly, society itself needs to send the message that intimidating witnesses on any level will not be tolerated.