This "stop snitching" mentality is an illness. And it's a contagious one that's spreading. How bad has it become?
When the producers of 60 Minutes on CBS feel compelled to do a segment on "stop snitching," then you know it's pretty darned bad.
The segment is scheduled to air tomorrow night. Correspondent Anderson Cooper reports the story, and he opens with an alarming, though for Baltimoreans, perhaps not a surprising revelation.
"In most communities, a person who sees a murder and helps the police put the killer behind bars is a witness," Cooper begins. "But in many inner-city neighborhoods in this country that person is called a 'snitch.' 'Stop Snitchin' '. is a catchy, hip-hop slogan that embodies and encourages this attitude. You can find it on everything from rap music videos to clothing. 'Stop Snitchin' ' once meant 'don't tell on others if you're caught committing a crime,' but it's come to mean something much more dangerous: 'Don't cooperate with the police -- no matter who you are.'"
That "something much more dangerous" should be called by its more proper name: witness intimidation. Baltimore State's Attorney Patricia C. Jessamy has called it that, as have other Maryland prosecutors. So have Baltimore police. And they know what Cooper points out in his report: that if witnesses are intimidated into not testifying, then killings don't get solved.
That's good news for the criminals and bad news for the rest of us, because it means that what was once the code of miscreants that was distinctly out of the mainstream -- and rightly so -- has now gone mainstream. Or, as Cooper put it, "what was once a backroom code of silence among criminals is now being marketed like never before." And Cooper makes no bones about who the culprits are: the "stop snitching" affliction is "fueled by hip-hop music [and] promoted by major corporations."
Remember the time, in the America we used to know, when being a criminal -- or even advocating the lifestyle -- was enough to get you kicked off a record label? Those days are gone. Now record labels rush to sign up the thugs. No one knows that better than Cameron Giles, whose stage name is Cam'ron.
Giles clings to the "stop snitching" code. Believes in it. Cherishes it. When Cooper asked Giles if he would call the police if he knew a serial killer was living next door to him, Giles replied:
"I wouldn't call and tell anybody on him. But I'd probably move."
Probably move? Oh Cam'ron, oh Cam'ron, where were you when Jeffrey Dahmer really needed you?
Giles has a reason for his cockeyed worldview. He was, he told Cooper, raised that way. And of course, there's the money angle. Two years ago somebody capped Giles in both his arms. (I'm resisting the urge to say they did it after listening to his music.) Check Giles' response after Cooper asked him why he hasn't identified his assailants to the police.
"Because with the type of business I'm in, it would definitely hurt my business," Giles answers. Perhaps not realizing he was rolling the dice with his sanity by even trying to talk sense to Giles, Cooper persists and says "if I was shot, I would want to know who did it. I would want the guy caught."
"But then again, you're not gonna be on the stage tonight in the middle of, let's say, Raleigh-Durham, North Carolina, with people with gold and platinum teeth and dreadlocks jumping up and down singing your songs either, you know what I'm saying?"
Oh, we do know, Cam'ron. We really do. Brag about your days as a drug dealer and diss Curtis "50 Cent" Jackson as a snitch -- as Cooper says Giles does in his videos and movies -- and you get a record deal. Make a call to "kill all rats," as Young Jeezy does in a blatant endorsement of cold-blooded murder, and you get a record deal.
Call some black women "nappy-headed hos" and you bring down the wrath of black America on you and get fired. Yeah, I think I see how this works now.
It would be ever-so-predictable if I took an almost obligatory dig at Al Sharpton for not addressing the disgusting messages black rappers like Cam'ron and Young Jeezy send both in and out of their music. But in fairness to Sharpton, he's done just that, and he did it long before the Don Imus controversy. In fact, Sharpton has called on all Americans to hurt rappers where they live: in their wallets.
"Many of the big-name rappers who rail against snitches are distributed on major record labels," Cooper reports, adding that Giles' distributor is the appropriately named Asylum Records, which is a division of Warner Music. "As for Cam'ron's relationship with Warner Music," Cooper says a few seconds later, "an executive there declined to comment."
If Warner Music executives don't want to talk, perhaps they'd indulge us by taking a little language-arts quiz. What does B-O-Y-C-O-T-T W-A-R-N-E-R M-U-S-I-C spell?