Police hit streets with their answer to 'Snitch' DVD
By Ryan Davis
First came Stop Snitching, the DVD celebrating drug dealing, diamond-encrusted wristwatches, violence and witness intimidation in Baltimore. Yesterday, city police unveiled their sequel.
As movie releases go, it was decidedly un-Hollywood. Officers in bright blue windbreakers stood in the middle of high-crime East Baltimore, around the corner from a block with eight vacant homes, and handed out copies of the Police Department's debut production, Keep Talking.
"The point," said police spokesman Matt Jablow, "is to let the criminals know that we're in charge, and to let the good people know we're winning the fight."
Today, local basketball star Carmelo Anthony, whose cameo appearance in Stop Snitching transformed it from an out-of-the-mainstream video into a national news story, will publicly condemn its message that people who help police should be killed.
Anthony, a forward with the Denver Nuggets who says he was unaware of the video's theme, and Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. are scheduled to announce today in Baltimore a campaign to classify violence as a public health crisis.
Ehrlich's scheduled appearance prompted a back-and-forth with political foe Mayor Martin O'Malley, an all-but-certain Democratic candidate for governor next year. The two rivals frequently clash on urban issues and who can be blamed for Baltimore's crime problem.
Said O'Malley spokeswoman Raquel Guillory: Ehrlich is "coming in here a little late to the game, and he's throwing up air balls."
Responded Ehrlich spokesman Henry Fawell: "The fact that Governor Ehrlich has to launch this program tomorrow means the mayor is losing the war on crime in his own city."
Just blocks from today's planned news conference at Johns Hopkins Hospital, officers passed out their video yesterday as nurses, teenagers, retirees, relatives of crime victims and others walked in and out of Northeast Market at lunchtime. Some would call it direct-to-consumer marketing. City police call it "guerrilla communications."
In East Baltimore, police are distributing note cards to suspects, informing them that they've been arrested in an area that's being swarmed by police. In West Baltimore, they are periodically closing down streets and stopping passers-by to talk. Also in West Baltimore, they started yesterday distributing fliers to announce the arrest of shooting and murder suspects.
It's all part of a larger city law enforcement strategy, based on so-called Boston-style policing, that calls for communicating directly with people involved in drugs and violence. The centerpiece of Boston's decade-old crime reduction philosophy is meetings at which police and others tell suspected gang members to start receiving assistance from social services and give up crime, or they will be hounded by police.
The program's goal, in Baltimore and Boston, is to ease people out of drugs and violence, while giving others faith that those who break the law will be arrested and convicted.
"People need to know they can trust us," Jablow said.
Within an hour yesterday, nine officers passed out more than 500 videos, they said. At the peak of distribution yesterday, a three-deep crowd mobbed the white police van, also emblazoned with "Keep Talking."
"I didn't know it would be this popular," said Officer Namhyun Kim.
The 1-minute, 40-second DVD features scenes from Stop Snitching, and background music from the hip-hop song "Shook Ones," which is slang for a rattled criminal. It opens with police Agent Donny Moses saying, "The men and women of the Baltimore Police Department would like to thank the producers of the Stop Snitching video. In case you didn't know, you've made Baltimore a safer city."
The images of two people in Stop Snitching flash onto the screen, followed by bold letters stating the criminal charges they face.
Officers plan to distribute 1,000 videos in East, West and Northwest Baltimore by the end of next week. They cost $2,200 to produce, Jablow said.
Most of those who took the police video had seen Stop Snitching, which has come to symbolize Baltimore's troubles with witness intimidation.
Some hope the police video works.
Danna Clark's brother was stabbed last September in East Baltimore. As he died, he told police three men had taken his car. As she walked away yesterday with a police video, she said her brother's killing remains unsolved because witnesses won't come forward.
"Wouldn't you be scared if you knew something and they knew where you lived?" she asked. "Hopefully that DVD will do something ... I hope. I hope. I really, really hope."
But others want the police video to fail.
"This one's B.S.," Tiara Clark, 18, said while clutching her video. "People need to learn to obey the code of the street."
She said she planned to take home her DVD and laugh at it.
For the video to work as police want, said 62-year-old Bob Wallace of East Baltimore, residents need to know that officers will be around to protect them if they call in tips. "I'm sick and tired," Wallace said, "of living in my house with the doors closed, peaking through the blinds."
By 1:20 p.m., the DVDs were gone, lunchtime was ending and Monument Street was returning to normal. Some young men happened by Maj. Rick Hite.
"What you've got now is some of the hustlers coming out to see what's going on," he said. "The word is already out."
To see the video, go to baltimoresun.com/policevideo