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Lawlessness of 'no-snitching'
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On Sunday, August 12, 2007, CBS News ran a feature story about an evolving cultural phenomenon that promotes a "no snitching" code of silence regarding reporting crimes to the police. One of the program's interviewees stated that "it is a crime in our community to be a snitch." This no-snitching "value" has transcended through time and remains an active cultural directive among various criminal gangs, prisoners and parolees. Presently, this phenomenon now exists within mainstream culture. In fact, it is so prevalent that commercial enterprises are now profiting from the sales of bumper stickers, window decals, T-shirts and other items of clothing which contain the "no-snitch" logo. These items are sold online and in any number of retail outlets. Hip Hop music is rife with the "no-snitch" message and now the effects of this commercialization are showing its impact here in our own communities.

There are many reasons given by the adherents to this "no-snitch" value. The predominant value that informs this phenomenon is that the community cannot and should not trust the police. There are a few examples of police misusing their authority for sure, but the vast majority of officers are among the best of all of our citizens in terms of ethics, morality, respect for our constitution, and for having a selfless interest in serving others. Contrarily, the criminals who are urging others to clam up from the police are, well, just criminals. Criminals are clearly the benefactors of any social trends that keep them shielded from the law.

Those who are the biggest advocates of not reporting crimes or acting as witnesses have a significantly vested interested in staying out of the law's reach. By intimidating potential witnesses and victims into avoiding the legal system, illegal drug and gun dealers, murderers and the like can enjoy lower chances of going to prison. Curiously, these criminals are finding that their self-serving message, which attempts to make snitching socially unacceptable, is resonating with a surprisingly large number of persons within our society.

Here in our own Central Valley communities, the police are finding that the "no-snitch" message has caused negative outcomes for individuals, families and neighborhoods. I can think of a number of instances in which there was a homicide, drive-by shooting, major fight, or other violent event. When the police arrive, those present disperse like rats jumping off a sinking ship. As for any remaining stragglers, most all of them deny having heard or seen anything. The officers know better, as the circumstances of many of these cases involve large parties or other group gatherings where any number of people could not have missed all or part of the event. As expected, these crimes have a significantly lower chance of being solved and the perpetrators caught.

The majority of this society's members do not ascribe to the "no-snitch" rule - fortunately. But young people in the 14-25 age group are the generation most exposed to the "no-snitch" mantra and, not surprisingly, they are the ones who will most suffer from the lawless consequences. It might appear to be no problem at this time for them, but as crime continues and the number of victims grows to unacceptably high levels, the aforementioned generation of this society may well regret their past actions. Clearly, the seeds they sow today are likely to haunt them later when criminals become more emboldened, fewer crimes are solved and more people feel as if in a state of imprisonment. Their ignorance is setting the stage for a life sentence of living in a society overrun with crime.

Our criminal justice system is founded on the concept that the majority of people are good, and as such, those members of the community will not tolerate crime without taking appropriate action to inform the proper authorities. This is the essence of partnership between the community and law enforcement. In the absence of this active partnership, we all will lose the rule of law and consequently, will start experiencing the early stages of anarchy.

It is easy enough to consider only the immediate impact of not snitching on those individuals who break the law, especially in cases of violent felonies. Witnesses and victims who assume that position may well be spared some retribution, harassment or finding themselves as social outcasts. Over time, however, the negative cumulative effect and outcome on our community will have devastating consequences on present and future generations.

Essentially, criminals will, in effect, hold these new victims in a virtual hostage situation, subject to their treachery, whims and desires. This phenomenon is totally unnecessary and completely avoidable. For one, the word "snitch" is negative in nature, and does not recognize the honorable actions of those who are willing to take a stand for themselves and their community. To snitch is to steal, rip off, or walk away, just like the criminals who advocate this way of thinking. As members of our democratic society, we have an obligation to report crime, or be willing to bear witness against those who commit the crimes, in order to keep a safe place to live for ourselves and future generations. We all know the difference between right and wrong, we simply need to live by what we already know.