6.6.08

Snitches Get Stitches

A little over a year ago, Cam'ron showed up for an episode of 360 with Anderson Cooper. Cooper took it upon himself to figure out why and how rappers have gotten entire communities to live by the slogan "stop snitching."

"Tonight, we're talking about a crisis," said Cooper, "We're going in- depth on two simple words: stop snitching. Now, the slogan was once used by criminals. And it meant, don't tell on others if you're caught committing a crime. But now the term stop snitching has come to mean something much more dangerous: Don't cooperate with the police, no matter who you are. You may not have heard it, but your kids have probably. The stop snitching message is being promoted by rappers, marketed by major corporations. And, because of what they are doing and how it's being distributed, murders are going unsolved, and people are dying."

Let's back things up a little further than Cooper would like to, though.
"The Slogan Was Once Used By Criminals"

As with much of hip-hop culture, stop snitching did not originate on the streets of the South Bronx. Cooper sort of acknowledges as much with the above quote, but he conveniently ignores a hugely significant portion of the term's history. When hip-hop adopted its gangster lean in the early 1980's, a lot of its swagger, codes, and language was borrowed from the history of the Italian mafia in the United States. Scarface, The Godfather, the real-life Gambino's (on whom the Rza has written extensively), Goodfellas - this was hip-hop's gangster source material.

Cooper and people of his ilk - white people who don't have the time to do their research when discussing hip-hop and find it easier to assume that rappers are just black savages who cooked this shit up on their own - have made up this lie that stop snitching began with rap music. It didn't.

In 1929 Salvatore "Lucky" Luciano, the father of modern organized crime, "was forced into a limo at gun point by three men, beaten and stabbed, and dumped on a beach on New York Bay. Luciano survived the ordeal, but was forever marked with the now famous scar and droopy eye. After his abduction, Luciano found out through Meyer Lansky that it had been ordered by Masseria's enemy Salvatore Maranzano. Luciano eventually did what Maranzano wanted, and killed Masseria. This plot would end the famous Castellammarese War." (Wikipedia)

The police came to Luciano to try to help in the investigation, Luciano refused and vowed to take care of it himself. For all of the mob's history, crimes were never discussed with the police (unless they were on your payroll). My grandfather, who grew up an Italian in the Bronx and was far from organized crime, still tells me that no one in his neighborhood would ever go to the police if they had trouble. Cooper's claim that it is something new that the term applies to all people and not just criminals is false; the stop snitching concept has always applied to entire neighborhoods and has never been exclusively the domain of a criminal who's been arrested.

Compare this to Geoffrey Canada's words, President and CEO of Harlem's Children Zone, who was also interviewed by Cooper: "When I was growing up, kids used to talk about snitching. It never extended, as a cultural norm, outside of the gangsters. It was not for regular citizens. It is now a cultural norm that is being preached in poor communities."

This may have been true of Canada's community, but the idea that "stop snitching" never existed in American communities before hip-hop adopted the phrase is just wrong.

"Murders Are Going Unsolved, And People Are Dying"

Cooper got one right. There are people dying. The people who come forward with evidence.

"The strategy sounds almost illogical: Detectives in New Jersey are being urged to build criminal cases with as few witnesses as possible. Or with none at all."

The above is the lede from an NY Times article published November19, 2007 titled "Keeping Witnesses Off Stand to Keep Them Safe". Said Detective Sgt. Ronald Hampton of the State Police of the new strategy: "“If you push someone and they agree to testify, now they’re your responsibility. You’ve got to keep them from disappearing or getting hurt. Can we protect them? Maybe. But God forbid that two years later you have to tell someone their husband or father got killed. I don’t want to have to live with that.”

Governor Jon Corzine acknowledged when he instituted the policy that the police are unable to protect people from retaliatory violence if they were to come forward and testify. If that's the scenario, what's the incentive to come forward? Furthermore, take this statistic from a November 23, 2007 article in the NY Times, "City Homicides Still Dropping, to Under 500": "But within the city's official crime statistics is a figure that may be even more striking: so far, with roughly half the killings analyzed, only 35 were found to be committed by strangers, a microscopic statistic in a city of more than 8.2 million."

"Stop snitching," therefore, is very much a community based phenomena; it is prominent because such a high portion of murders, at least in New York City, take place between people who know one another and will likely be sorted out in the traditional Mafioso sense; within the family.

I am not defending this vigilante justice, I am reinforcing the point that this "hip-hop based" (which is an inaccurate term, of course, most of these murders are, contrary to popular belief, NOT committed by rappers, rappers simply report on the language of their communities) incarnation of "stop snitching" is distinctly unnoriginal and exactly in keeping with the Italian Mafia sense of the term. Unlike Cooper's view, it did not grow in a vacuum.

"If I Knew The Serial Killer Was Living Next Door To Me?"

Finally, Cooper confronts Cam'ron with his best Tim-Russert-asks-a-ridiculous-hypothetical-question impersonation:

"If there's a serial killer living next door to you, though, and you know that person is, you know, killing people, would you be a snitch if you called police and told them?"

Cam'ron's response: "No, I wouldn't call and tell anybody on him, but I would probably move. But I'm not going to call and be like, you know, the serial killer is in 4-E."

"If you think Cam'ron is kidding, he's not. Maintaining street cred sells records," responds Cooper.

Right, Cooper, you fucking moron, Cam'ron's just gonna move away. No! This is the whole idea, you really think Cam'ron's going to find out he lives next door to a serial killer and call U-Haul? Well, he might, but only if that's what he's going to use it to transport the serial killer's bullet-riddled body to the East River.

A serial killer next door would be dealt with in-house, but Cam'ron's not about to say that on national television to a reporter who's the whitest thing since powdered wigs.

1 comment:

Ike said...

"My grandfather, who grew up an Italian in the Bronx and was far from organized crime, still tells me that no one in his neighborhood would ever go to the police if they had trouble."

I think that's the thing. The community's adoption of being uncooperative. I think it just flies in the face of Time Warner & all of its employees across our great nation when they finally see it on a t-shirt. Also another question is can we really point out the "cooperate sponsorship" that cooper's talkin about?