EIGHT DAYS before the words "Stop Snitching" became all the media rage in Baltimore, I saw them as I drove with my mother and uncle down Edmondson Avenue.
As we were stopped at the intersection of Monroe Street, I looked to my right at the boarded-up house with the wood painted in burgundy. Somebody had spray-painted in white letters: "Stop Snitching."
I knew what it meant, of course. I didn't have to wait for the revelation about the DVD called Stop Snitching -- guest-starring Baltimore's own Carmelo Anthony of the Denver Nuggets -- to know that something wasn't quite right on the streets of Baltimore.
Rodney Bethea feels there's something not quite right with us media types. Bethea is the co-producer -- with Skinny Suge -- and editor of Stop Snitching. He sells the DVDs in his Frederick Road shop for 10 bucks a pop. Bethea isn't a happy camper these days. He feels the news media have misrepresented the video, which Bethea said was made for "entertainment purposes" and is basically a documentary about what's happening on Baltimore's streets.
"It's no different than a documentary about a serial killer," Bethea said Sunday afternoon inside the One Love Underground store. Bethea didn't say much more than that. In fact, he was reluctant to sell me a copy of Stop Snitching. His attorneys had advised him not to talk to the news media. Bethea was worried that there would be more misrepresentation of Stop Snitching. I assured him I wanted not only to get his side of the story, but to watch the video and judge for myself if folks have legitimate reason to worry.
On that note, there's good news and bad news about Stop Snitching. The bad news is that, judging from the cover -- which shows three people who have been fatally shot under a caption that reads "Snitch Prevention" -- folks might indeed get the impression that this is a video that exhorts drug dealers and other thugs to kill potential witnesses, which is what Mayor Martin O'Malley, the Baltimore Police Department and prosecutors are worried about.
The "good news" -- if indeed it can be called that -- is that there are portions of Stop Snitching that indicate the threats made in the video are nothing more than part of the macho posturing common to today's hip-hop culture. Much of that posturing is in jest, as when Anthony's friends tell him that Larry Brown, the American 2004 Olympic basketball coach, will be lynched if he ever comes to Baltimore.
No one seriously expects Anthony's friends to lynch Brown, or even "bank" him, for that matter. If that threat can't be taken seriously, should we be alarmed about the others?
Anthony was clearly joking when he talked of "putting money on the brains" of a freestyle rapper named Black who had dissed him in a rap. Black's dissing of Anthony was more of that posturing I referred to. The "snitches" and "rats" talked about in the video aren't ordinary citizens who alert police about crimes, but hard-core criminals themselves who, when arrested, roll over on their friends in hopes of getting released or cutting a deal with prosecutors.
That kind of muddled thinking has been around a while. It didn't start with guys like Bethea and Skinny Suge in the Stop Snitching video. George Jackson, the Black Panther Party member famous for his prison writings Soledad Brother and Blood in My Eye, wrote years ago that the worst thing a criminal could do, in the eyes of his fellow criminals, was snitch on his "crime partner."
It's this criminal mentality and culture, which are rampant among some segments of black youth, that worry me more than the video. Anyone who wonders why there are more black men in prison than in college (if indeed that's true) needs only to watch this DVD. In what may be the only worthwhile segment of Stop Snitching, Skinny Suge chides some gangsta wannabe for not really being from the streets and advises him to return to Coppin State University and study law.
That scene may be lost on the target audience for Stop Snitching, which seems to be Baltimore's street thugs. But the thugs aren't the only ones watching. Police are now aware, and some of them probably figure that, thanks to Bethea and Skinny Suge, policing has never been easier.
Baltimore's teens have also discovered Stop Snitching. When I asked a group of six students at Southwestern High School if they had seen the video, five said they had. Two boys said Stop Snitching isn't the only video of its kind, that they're quite common and that they are the only type of movies they watch.
So in addition to fretting about whether Stop Snitching will increase Baltimore's homicides, you should also worry about something else.
What's your teen watching?