Forgive me for snitchin' on our standards!


Here comes yet another post about anti-gun bias in the Philadelphia Inquirer. I like the Inquirer and I honestly wish I didn't have to be doing this, but articles like this latest one just have a way of making me feel obligated.

Raymond Ruffin, also known as "Dude" or "Black," was shot in the forehead and again in the top of his head.

Whoever killed him made sure he was dead.

His mother, Celestine, who lives on neighboring Pierce Street, ran to the corner and held his fallen body.

It wasn't the first homicide in the family.

Ruffin's cousin, Anthony Dickerson, 27, also was shot in the head and killed at 24th and Dickinson Streets early last year. Police reported an arrest in the slaying.

The day before Ruffin was shot, Antose H. Brown, 19, the nephew of Ruffin's stepfather, Reginald Brown, was shot to death at 18th and Ellsworth Streets. There has been no arrest in that case.

"Everything's going ballistic," said Reginald Brown, 46.

Mark Broadnax, 24, Ruffin's cousin and housemate on Watkins Street, said he didn't know why his cousin was shot.

Homicide Capt. Michael Costello said nobody had been arrested.

"They shoot first and think about the consequences later," Ruffin's stepfather said. "But it's too late. You already took someone's life."

Just like that, huh? People are killed execution-style, and it's the fault of the guns?

What about the man who the gun saw fit to execute?

They also knew Ruffin, who worked at a barbershop in West Philadelphia.

"He was no angel," Al Payton said, "but he didn't deserve that."

No angel? That's pretty vague. I could describe myself that way, and I think so could 99.9999% of the people in the world. "No angel" is not much to go on.

The headline describes the neighborhood as "reeling from gun violence" -- and the first few paragraphs make much of the fact that the husband of a woman said to be caught in crossfire was a war veteran who "took fire" in Iraq:

He took fire, and that was to be expected.

In Philadelphia, however, his wife should be safe.

"It's out of control," he said this week, sitting a few feet from where his wife had collapsed, mortally wounded, inside the house.

I suspect that many readers won't spend their time reading through the entire article, as they've already made up their minds about whether the guns -- or the shooters -- are to be blamed.

I admit my bias. I think when someone goes to the trouble of picking up a gun and shooting another human being with it, that he is responsible. The only way I could blame a gun for a shooting would be in those rare instances where it was physically defective and fired itself by accident.

I realize, of course, that others disagree with me, and that this debate will never, ever, be settled. I am as tired of re-echoing the "guns-don't-kill-people! people-kill-people!" theme as I suspect people are of reading it, no matter what side they're on.

And this time, I'd like to look at another factor.

A word. A single, annoying word.


Back to the Inquirer:

The police Crime Scene Unit got the call a half-hour before midnight July 1: 2200 block of Watkins Street in South Philadelphia; female shot once; dead. It was the third homicide that Saturday.

The block was quiet. Witnesses had been taken away to be interviewed by homicide detectives. A few remaining residents sat on their darkened steps and quietly watched as Officer Brian Stark and civilian investigator Karen Auerwick arrived on Watkins Street at 12:30 a.m.

Armed with flashlights, they scanned the white rowhouse where the unidentified woman was killed. The front door and the storm door were smeared and spattered with blood. "It looks like she's shot in front of the house, and the direction of the blood patterns indicate she was trying to get inside," Stark said.

A bottle of Canada Dry pineapple soda lay where the woman sat. Inside, a thick puddle of blood on the green carpet marked where she collapsed.

Auerwick photographed the location and then measured the distances from house to house. They collected a few items as possible evidence. Around the corner, they stopped briefly at the SUV of a Good Samaritan who transported the dying woman to a nearby fire station. Auerwick photographed what appeared to be a bloodstain on the backseat.

They arrived at the police Forensic Science Center at Eighth and Poplar Streets at 2:45 a.m. Stark relayed what he had been told by homicide detectives at the scene.

Apparently the "stop snitchin' " mentality plaguing the city had quickly stymied the case.

"Fifty people having a barbecue, and nobody seen anything," Stark said, using the vernacular of the street.

"Nobody seen anything, huh?" Officer William Trenwith, a longtime crime-scene investigator, replied with mock surprise.

"The street's 16 feet wide, and nobody seen anything," Stark said.

(Emphasis added.)

While most readers wouldn't get that far in the article, I'm always interested in details, so naturally I'm intrigued by the "the 'stop snitchin'' mentality plaguing the city," and I want to know more -- especially because on the Fourth of July I saw members of the crowd at Penn's Landing wearing black T-shirts which said "STOP SNITCHIN'"

So what is snitchin'? Is it definition time again? Here's the free dictionary:

To turn informer: He snitched on his comrades.

2. An informer.

"Snitch" is said to be synonymous with "rat," and "stool-pigeon."

But it's more than that. In the T shirt context, it's a campaign -- an all-but-official one. Wikipedia has an article on the campaign, said to originate with Baltimore criminals:

Stop Snitchin' refers to a modern campaign by criminals to frighten people with information from reporting their activities to the police. It specifically refers to a Baltimore-based home made DVD that threatened violence against would be informants.

The campaign has been shown to be an effective measure in dissuading witnesses and disrupting legal proceedings

Two criminal trials this month were disrupted by an article of clothing.

A witness called to testify against three men on trial for conspiring to kill him was ejected from Allegheny County Common Pleas Court because he came in wearing a T-shirt that said "Stop Snitchin." Without his testimony, prosecutors were forced to withdraw charges against the three defendants.

The following day, during the sentencing phase of a federal drug case, an assistant U.S. Attorney paused to show the judge two T-shirts vilifying witnesses who gave prosecutors information about a cocaine kingpin.

One shirt had a photograph of a witness, an admitted drug dealer, who eventually won a reduced sentence for cooperating with authorities. Above his image and a photo of another cooperating witness were the words "No snitching allowed." On the opposite side, it read "Niggas Just Looking For a Deal" and, once again, "Stop Snitchin."

The back-to-back incidents were no coincidence. The shirts belong to an urban fashion trend that hit Boston and Baltimore about a year ago and is now taking hold on the streets of Pittsburgh.

The above article features a picture of the shirts from a sales display:


Yeah, that's the same Tee as the ones worn at Penn's Landing on the Fourth. Obviously this anti-snitchin' meme has blossomed into a big business.

What that means is that the "stop snitchin' code" is not limited to helpless neighborhood residents plagued by crime. It's actively promoted by heroic media celebrities like Lil Kim -- recently released from a federal prison here in Philadelphia amidst huge hoopla.

(A hoopla which was covered in a piece failing to mentioned the key role played by the the "snitchin'" meme in the context of Lil Kim. Odd, because not only is she a major anti-snitchin' heroine, but the piece was written by the same reporter who wrote today's "gun violence" lament.)

Elsewhere, though, the Lil Kim snitchin' meme has not been ignored. Far from it. As the "Lil Inky" reports, the big bad MSM has devoted a lot of money to making high-profile documentaries about her -- the "executive director" of which openly express sympathy with the no-snitching code:

Lil' Kim (real name: Kimberly Jones) was sentenced in September to "a year and a day" behind bars. She's been serving time at Philadelphia's Federal Detention Center for lying to a grand jury about a 2001 shoot-out between members of her entourage and a rival rap crew in front of a New York radio station.

Lil' Kim: Countdown to Lockdown launches March 9. The promos may appear to support the rapper, but BET takes no position on her crime, network officials said here yesterday at the opening day of the TV Critics Association's winter meetings.

"We take a very serious look at her life and her choices, and the consequences of those choices," said Reginald Hudlin, BET's new president of entertainment. He labeled Kim's situation "absurd, tragic, Fellini-esque." (He's a Harvard grad.)

Hudlin, a film writer/director (Boomerang; The Ladies Man), will continue to serve as executive producer of The Boondocks on Cartoon Network. He directed the pilot of Chris Rock's new UPN comedy, Everybody Hates Chris.

BET and UPN are owned by Viacom; Cartoon Network is a Time Warner property.

Back to Lil' Kim's ethics. "We're letting viewers decide," Lockdown executive director Tracey E. Edmonds said in an interview. "We just want to educate them on all the issues involved, and the type of pressure that would lead her to make that decision."

As for Edmonds' personal view, she would "have to support" Lil' Kim, "because even though it may have been against the law, she was under a lot of pressure.

"She was courageous enough to accept the fact that she made a mistake and is suffering the consequences. She's not blaming anyone but herself. She was prepared to serve her time."

Lockdown will also enlighten viewers about the "no snitch" code of the 'hood, Edmonds said. Kim "had a tough upbringing in Brooklyn. She was taught from day one that you do not snitch. You try to stay uninvolved."

I think it's unfortunate that someone would grow up with such a "code," but that doesn't tell me much about the word "snitch."

Lil Cease (who testified as a witness against Lil Kim) says he's "not a snitch" and explains the nuances of the term:

Lil' Cease says he just didn't have a choice.

If you're from the streets, one of the most honored codes is that you don't tell, especially not on your friends. And although he testified against his estranged friend Lil' Kim in her perjury trial, he maintains he's not a snitch.

"Being that Kim took the case to trial, they subpoenaed all the witnesses," Cease said on Friday (see "Lil' Kim Found Guilty Of Lying To Grand Jury, Investigators"). "Me and Kim wasn't on good terms for the moment, and she made it clear to the world that she didn't want to have anything to do with me and my peoples. So she wasn't trying to call us to her defense. Being that we was witnesses there, the U.S. government subpoenaed us. And there's nothing you can do about that. When you're subpoenaed, you either come or they take your ass to jail. It's just that simple."

So, if there's a federal subpoena and you're not on good terms with someone, testifying about that person isn't snitchin'.

Is that the rule in all cases, or only in Lil Cease's case? Anyway, even the rule in Lil Cease's case seems to be questionable, as unless I am reading this wrong, Lil Kim still seems to think Lil Cease is a snitch:

He says he doesn't appreciate them calling him a snitch in various media outlets.

"Keep my name out of your mouth," Cease insisted. "I was really bugging off Cam because I saw him a couple of times ... and everything was all gravy. I'm like, 'OK, n---as is taking shots.' But [Cam] sat there and did something I didn't do. You get on a record and say the n---a threw up the Roc sign before he shot you [last year]. That's dry snitching. I got no love for them."

Cease says he's been catching it pretty hard since Lil' Kim and others labeled him a snitch after he testified against her in the highly publicized perjury trial.

"It took its toll," he said. "It [messed] up my street cred for a minute. I never got disrespected as far as n---as in your grill saying it, but that's everybody's word: 'The n---a is a snitch.' That had me feeling [bad]. A lot of people didn't want to do business with me. They didn't want to play our records. They thought I fouled out." ease says he's going to show the full transcript of his testimony in Kim's trial as added proof.

The Junior M.A.F.I.A. are also planning to release a soundtrack mixtape for the DVD with guest appearances from Method Man and Peedi Crakk. Cease is also working on his solo LP.

"A real power unit is trying to holla at me," he said.

Sheesh! Now the whole recording industry is involved! I don't know much about the music, and I'm afraid this business of snitchin' is getting a little over my head.

But considering the commercial aspects, maybe I don't need to define snitch. After all, I'm just a blogger, trying my best to be representing the English language and logic and common sense and stuff which really isn't relevant to these things.

I mean, isn't this a question for the big guys in the industry?

Can't they come up with an industry standard?

My sarcasm aside, I think something serious is being missed here, and it may touch on an unresolved cultural problem.

When I was a kid, I was not a snitch. Meaning, I wasn't what you'd call a "tattle tale." But a snitch in those days meant being a boy who would "tell" on his friends for doing bad things.

I can't speak for anyone's childhood but my own (and I admit it's arguable whether I ever grew up, but that's another issue), but I can state honestly that while boys who misbehaved considered all tattle-tales to be snitches, it was considered worse to snitch on your own comrades in crime than to be a good responsible boy who would tell on the bad boys. The latter, while worthy of boyish contempt, were mere "Sidney Sawyer" types -- and not nearly as detestable as the former. That was because if you were a boy prone to misbehave, you knew who the good boys were. They were not comrades, and you could avoid them.

This code of children that I grew up with, while it might be lamentable from an adult perspective, is at least understandable, because it is inherent in any institutional setting where there are authority figures who set rules. Thus, in a prison setting, the rules are very different than they would be for free adults who provide for themselves independently.

I think it's fair to point out that now that I am an adult, I still don't consider myself to be the adult version of a snitch, which is a "rat." I don't provide damaging information about friends or comrades. That, however, does not mean that I would not call the cops or testify against a neighbor who opened fire on the neighborhood -- to say nothing of a stranger who might enter the neighborhood and commit crimes. Calling the cops or testifying at a trial of such a person would not (in my opinion) be ratting, because I'm not part of his conspiracy or plan, and merely being a neighbor of someone does not obligate me in the least to be silent if he decides to go on a criminal rampage.

So what am I missing here? If a neighbor did shoot another neighbor, I'd blame him, and I would willingly tell the police all I knew. I would not be a rat for doing so, and I would not even think of blaming the gun he used.

But I must wonder: Might there be a connection between the "no snitchin' code" and blaming guns?

I mean, if you live in a culture where snitchin' is not allowed, what else can you blame? Think about it. If guns are considered evil by the authorities (or whoever might constitute the collective powers-that-be), and you live in an area seeped in institutional standards from cradle to grave, why, a gun is an external, neutral thing. There's no way you can get in trouble for laying blame on the gun. And it's not snitching (or even "telling") to say that the gun went off -- because that's not in dispute. So there's a certain emotional appeal to simply blaming the gun.

Especially if there are people who want to hear it.

What this means is that if I were against guns, and I thought in a Machiavellian manner, I would be 100% in favor of the stop snitchin' campaign.

The problem with this approach is that getting people to feel sorry for people who won't "snitch" is a tougher sell than blaming the guns. So it would be in my interest to say as little as possible about snitchin'!

But me, I'm on the other side!

That's why I'm snitchin'!

posted by Eric on 07.08.06 at 11:58 AM

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