What constitutes a snitch? How far can one take it? When is telling not telling? In today’s world the lines aren’t so clear cut and dried. Moral questions come into play such as obligations and family along with ideals such as integrity, honor and respect. The definition of a snitch is rat, informant or tattletale. The dictionary goes along the same lines- Snitch: 1) To turn informer, tattle. 2) An informer. The word came into usage in England circa 1775 and the origin is uncertain but the definition is clear or is it?
In today’s juxtaposed world of popular culture, the streets, hip-hop and the War on Drugs the word takes on several different connotations to different people, ethnic groups and social classes. But still a snitch is a snitch and as a society we’ve been conditioned to believe that nobody likes a snitch. From childhood parents teach their children not to tattle. The cops have their wall of silence, the military forces their secret tribunals, big businesses and CEO’s abhor whistle blowers and criminals have their own code.
“The ideal of the stand up guy has always been the central element in the American underworld,” one oldtime gangster says. “From the earliest immigrant groups people who refused to talk to law enforcement and were willing to do prison time if called for were admired for their toughness and loyalty. Being a stand up guy was like being a prince of the underwor1d and this attribute transcended ethnic lines.” So gangsters and criminals off all creeds were expected to and rewarded when they kept their mouth shut and did their time. And snitches were marked for death for opening their mouths.
“Being able to accept your punishment for shit you get jammed for is important.” Getto Boys rapper Scarface said in FEDS Magazine. “You gotta suffer the consequences. Fuck a snitch. A snitch might as well take a dick.” And in criminal circles they say, “If you’re gonna do the crime be willing to do the time.” That is the ideal and any betrayal of that ideal is seen as snitching. The Mafia even has a word for the code-Omerta, the code of silence. What is done in the streets stays in the streets. Never talk to the police. Stand up guys take a position and maintain it when faced with adversity. Be it a life sentence of the death penalty. But the stand up guy was born of a time before RICO conspiracy laws, paid confidential informants and the Witness protection program.
“Back in the day when you got busted you could take the fall because even for murder you were only getting 2-7 years and 25 years was considered a life sentence,” one DC convict says. “Going to prison was seen as a right of passage for criminals. If you did your bid, kept your mouth shut and came home your reputation in the city was enhanced. But now with the football numbers the feds are giving out dudes can’t carry their weight and stand up. They could stand up for 5 but for 20? There’s only a few still built like that.” And since the end of the 80’s dudes have been rolling over on the regular.
With the toughest sentencing guidelines ever cooperation became the rule rather than the exception and the old time gangster and stand up guy became extinct. “It started with the mafia,” says the oldtime gangster. “They became a victim of their own success. Hollywood embraced them and with that it was all down hill. The Mafia became pop culture and prosecutors around the country jumpstarted their political careers by taking the mob down.” It became a repeating scene of the first one to the buffet table as mobsters rushed to be the first ones to cooperate and get the sweetest deals. Most Mafioso’s instinct for survival outweighed all other criminal codes of behavior. Especially with the feds serving life sentences for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
And the explosion of the drug trade in the 80’s has proven to be the biggest factor in people turning snitch. Faced with life sentences drug kingpins and their underlings switch sides to go to bat for the government in hopes of reducing their jail time. It’s a vicious world where prosecutors hold all the power. The War on Drugs has created a snitch culture where brother tell on brother. The ideals of the past have been trashed in the face of mandatory minimums and sentencing guidelines that congress enacted to usher in the War on Drugs as a direct result of the indiscriminate violence and brashness of the crack trade that boomed in the mid eighties. Nearly every drug case in the feds involves a snitch. “Right near the end of the 80’s the game started getting shystier than a motherfucker,” Scarface confided to Feds backing up the notion.
And as hip-hop has gone mainstream like the mafia before it everything from the underworld and the streets has become popular culture. Now one can find Crips and Bloods in the suburbs and gang signs and Crip walks are regularly seen in rap videos, DVDs and movies. And with the advent of the new crack rap by new artists such as Rick Ross, Cleezy, Weezy, the Dipset and 50 Cent the phenomenon is not about to end. But when does the culture envelope itself and when does entertainment blur with reality?
“The hip-hop industry is not making it easy for itself with the whole stop snitching thing,” hip-hop cop Derrick Parker said in XXL of the Stop Snitching T-shirts prevalent in the hip-hop community. The backlash after 25 years of the War on Drugs is a welcomed sight but will the code go back to being the code or is it just a fad or an illusion to fuel record and DVD sales?
“Most of the cats advocating the stop snitching movement are not real gangsters,” one New York convict says. “They are entertainment figures with little if any criminal backgrounds. I mean look at 50 cent, he did 9 months in a boot camp and he expects us to believe he’s a stand up guy, an old time gangster. Get real.” But raps pseudo drug lords have their fans buying into the whole movement. The stop snitching phenomenon was even co-opted by USA Today, the most mainstream of newspapers as a headline and cover story to sell papers. But hip-hops connection to drug culture and criminal codes of honor are illusionary at best and hip-hop cop Derrick Parker sees nothing but problems for the rappers.
“The authorities see rappers who are no cooperating with the police and they see all these shooting and homicides. To them that borders on organized crime,” he told XXL. With all the songs and high profile cases involving the likes of Shyne, Lil Kim, Cam’ron, 50 cent and Busta Rhymes the snitch issue is not going away. The movement seems to have originated with the Skinny Suge “Stop Snitching” DVD that featured NBA star Carmel Anthony. Now every rapper and their entourage are putting out stop snitching DVDs and exposing their competition as rats. But is it real or entertainment? Very few of them are facing jail time and even when they do it is minimal time. So what has the effect on real life been? And in y2k what exactly is a snitch?
“On the far right you got the police,” the NY convict says. “On the far left you got the gangsters and in the middle you got the civilian. There is a difference between a witness and a snitch. A witness is someone who doesn’t have and allegiance to the individuals who participated in the criminal acts. There is no breach of trust. A witness is doing their civic duty as a citizen and police consider anyone who doesn’t provide info as obstructing justice. Most people are taught to report suspicious or criminal behavior to the proper authorities. But on the flipside a cat who gets busted with product and flips on his mans and them to get off is a pure snitch, plain and simple. No ands, ifs or buts.” In the criminal underworld snitching is a transgression worthy of Judas, the cultural father of all betrayals. And in prison, where most criminals end up there is no sympathy for a snitch. But the lines aren’t always so clear.
“Is your grandma that called the cops on the dudes selling crack on the corner a snitch?” The DC convict asks. “No way Joe. She ain’t in the game. But what happens if she reports a murder and is gonna testify on dude?” He Pauses. “Still she’s not a snitch. She has no vested interest in the crime. But let’s say the dude facing the murder beef gets his homies to kill your grandma the witness? Fucked up, yes? But that’s part of the game?” In the violent criminal underworld fair isn’t always fair and innocent victims of witnesses who open their mouths can and will get killed but that doesn’t mean they’re a snitch. Snitches put cases on people. Snitches are law enforcement pawns. No snitch can ever be honorable. But on the flipside sometimes it takes a snitch to bring justice to some well deserving bad guys.
“A child molester or baby raper is the lowest of the low in prison.” The oldtime gangster says. “I live by the code but I would testify against a child molester because that is wrong. But if I could get away with it I would kill them first.” And this is coming from an oldtimer. So when do the ends justify the means? To some like the DC convict “Anybody who testifies for the prosecution is a rat.” But he relates an even more complex situation.
“Dude T-bone from around my way is a thorough dude. No bullshit. An oldtime prison legend. Him and two other dudes were at a halfway house, just got out of Lorton. Some prison guards worked at the halfway house. T-bone and the two dudes robbed the place and beat the residents and got caught. All three of them. There were only two witnesses to the robbery and beating, the one dude who got beat and a female prison guard who was subdued. To get out of prison T-bone told the cops what happened and his part in it and agreed to cooperate against his co-defendants the other two dudes. When the cops let him out he went and killed both witness and then him and the two other dudes got the case thrown out due to no witnesses being available.” The DC convict stops. “Now, is T-bone a snitch?” A lot of people would say yeas because he talked to the cops but you have to look at the whole picture. He got himself and his two boys off by killing the witnesses to the crime that he informed the authorities of to get out of jail for the express purpose of nullifying the witnesses. A twisted game for sure but snitch or no snitch?
In this post War on Drugs world no answers are clear cut. Sure there is the black and white, clean cut look but sometimes one must look deeper and then decide what constitutes a snitch. Because it isn’t always as clear as it seems. A lot of variables can come into play. But be sure to know that if you are in the game or a criminal undertaking at one time or another you will be pressured to snitch or even told that your boy already has snitched on you. Just remember this when that time comes, if you’re willing to do the crime be willing to do the time.