Columnist Jamala Rogers

I feel compelled to give some history and context to the snitching debate. It seems that a number of honest people are trying to understand the latest incarnation of the “No snitching” campaign. Those who vociferously condemn should take a look the issue from all sides.

The first real “No snitching” campaign was a response to the FBI’s COINTELPRO which targeted radical black activists and organizations. Being a target, I saw how other black people were used to not just be informants but to actually set law-abiding organizers up for drug possession charges or even death. It was a paid informant who set up and drugged Black Panther Fred Hampton for a pre-dawn massacre by the Chicago cops.

One of my favorite old-school rappers, Chuck D of Public Enemy, has come down heavy on the perversion of snitching, and I totally agree with him.

"The term 'snitch' was best applied to those that ratted revolutionaries like Huey P. Newton, Bobby Seale, Che Guevara," he said.

"Let's not let stupid cats use hip-hop to again twist this meaning for the sake of some 'innerganghood' violent drug-thug crime dogs, who've sacrificed the black community's women and children."

Snitching was never intended to be used only to save one’s butt - or, in the case of gangsta rapper Cam’ron, to protect his slimy business.

Since the Black Power movement was annihilated by the FBI, the next campaign against our communities came in the form of drugs. Many of us felt that the drug explosion was the government’s response to an awakening community rising up to take their political, economic and social places at the Table of First Class Citizens.

By the 1980s, the introduction of crack cocaine to our communities resulted in the destruction of both our families and neighborhoods. It was like an unstoppable disease, striking its victims regardless of their financial situation, age, religion or education. The gang-led drug wars wreaked havoc on our lives. Black folks were desperate to end the carnage. It was in this swamp that the new phase of snitching emerged.

Aided and abetted by police and department policies, many a young man was pressured to give a name that resulted in an arrest and conviction. Estimates suggest that one in 12 men in urban communities has been used as informants. The problem with that is most will sell their mama’s soul to avoid prosecution or a police whooping. Defense attorney Harvey Silverglate has noted that rewards for informers encourage them "not only to sing, but to compose."

Under the banner of a so-called war on drugs going on, an assembly line of our black sons, uncles, fathers and friends is going straight into the prison-industrial complex. Despite the fact that whites used more illicit drugs than blacks, a cottage prison industry swallowed up tens of thousands of black and brown people. By 2002, the U.S. prison population reached an historic 2 million with about half of million of those being drug-related, non-violent offenses.

I can point to the most striking example of the double-edged snitching that I’ve worked with. When Ellen Reasonover, a young woman with no criminal history came forward to give police information about a murder of a gas station attendant, the police looked no further. She was arrested, charged and served 17 years before evidence was found that was hidden by prosecutors. The police used jailhouse snitches, an often-used but unreliable practice, to testify against Ellen at trial.

We have on record numerous cases similar to Ellen’s that have led to innocent people serving time. We also have on record incidents where once persons had come forward with information to police, their identity was exposed by police setting off a whole other set of circumstances. Those who rightfully don’t trust the police to Serve and Protect must play a greater role in helping to come up with whatever the alternative is going to be. Our community deserves to be safe and secure.

If we really are going to get down with the getting people to come forward with the truth, you have to include the police. Their blue wall has no room for “snitches” even when wrong has been done by one of their own, yet they expect cooperation from others. You can’t have it both ways.

The bottom line is that this model of U.S. justice needs a whole new frame and new parts to go with it. It needs a whole new reason to exist because as it stands now, most of the crooks both in high and low places are on the outside of the bars.

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