I wrote this article for a blog a couple years ago. I am re-posting it in response to today’s New York Post story (and the reaction to it) accusing Al Sharpton of being a “rat,” because he assisted in an FBI probe investigating organized crime.
The meanings of words can change over time. This often occurs when a term becomes a euphemism for something totally unique and different than its original definition (typically as a result of sarcasm or applied irony in the formation of slang.) These changes are usually harmless; the only side effects being felt by individuals out of the contextual loop (often by design.) But when the definition of words skew slightly as opposed to dramatically, an envelope often opens, and a word begins to imply things it shouldn’t. Such is the case with the term, “snitching.”
A few years ago, an intellectually deficient rap artist named, Cam’Ron appeared on 60 Minutes to extol the virtue of keeping one’s mouth shut. He said many stupid things (as he is prone to do,) but none more asinine then when asked if he would call the police if he found out a serial killer was living next door, he answered, “nope, he ain’t bothering me!” I remember watching that night thinking two things: first, this dummy doesn’t even know what a loaded question is, and two, where on earth did he get this ridiculous idea of what it is to be a “snitch?”
It was always my understanding, that “snitching” implies betrayal. If you and I are engaged together in some conspiratorial enterprise and I am apprehended, then I would be “snitching” by giving you up in exchange for a leaner punishment. This is certainly dishonorable and sends the lame and criminal career-ending message, “I can’t be trusted, I wasn’t fully responsible or aware of my culpability, and it was the other guy’s idea.” Unfortunately, the less verbose members of our society (who often times are the ones who engage in these kind of activities) have expanded the definition of “snitching” to apply to ANYONE who notifies ANYONE ELSE of ANY particular suspicious or illegal activity (perhaps, in a subconscious attempt to defer the burden of responsibility for being caught away from their own carelessness.) The altering of the definition is pernicious because the stigma that comes with being labeled a “snitch” has not changed. Thus, an upstanding citizen who happens to be walking his dog, sees some suspicious activity, and notifies authorities, is now labeled a “snitch” by the less desirable members of the community, putting him or her at potential risk for retribution. Some have even gone as far as affixing the “snitch” label to those who film fights and brawls and post them on websites such as Youtube or Worldstar Hip Hop. They aren’t snitches. They’re aspiring documentary filmmakers (as is anyone with an iPhone these days.) It’s the 21st century and just as politicians have to mind every utterance because there is ALWAYS a camera rolling, so too do the wanna-be ballers, shot callers and brawlers. Are the kids filming you beat that guy’s ass really “snitches,” or are you a moron for committing a malicious wounding felony in front of a dozen cameras? I’m thinking it’s the latter.
As a business owner, I have a huge incentive to assist in keeping the neighborhood in which I work, a safe one. Other business owners and residents in my community look after me and I look after them. We all know that if bad things happen in our neighborhood, people may be less inclined to visit us. Our tax dollars help keep our neighborhood clean and functional and pay for police and fire departments to keep us safe. We feel a sense of collective responsibility for each others well being. If you are engaged in a criminal enterprise, it is incumbent upon you to keep that invisible from people like us. In fact, if you are a true professional at what you do, you could probably operate within our immediate surroundings and as long as your activity has no detrimental effect on the rest of us, we won’t even notice you. But if you get sloppy, and let your dirt into the street? Well… we have a problem.
Let’s suppose I look out my office window and see you and another individual depositing what is clearly a lifeless body into the alley across the street. Without hesitation, I will call 911. I may even grab my firearm (which I am legally allowed to do as a concealed handgun permit holder) and head outside. I don’t know whose body that is. Perhaps it is one of my friends or neighbors. I don’t know who you are. I only know you don’t own or rent the property on which you are standing. I have not entered into any bond or covenant with you. I know not of your activities or what you do to earn money. All I know is someone is dumping a body in MY neighborhood and I don’t want to live or do business in a neighborhood where bodies are dumped. I will do whatever I can to help the victim before police and paramedics arrive. I will give the authorities the most detailed account possible, cooperate and assist them in any way I can. That is my duty as a citizen. Am I at fault if you are apprehended? Am I a “snitch,” or should you have found a more discrete place to do your dirty work?
Let’s suppose you are clearly selling drugs on the block where my business is located. You do so in plain sight and at all hours. The traffic of less-desirables is making the neighborhood unsafe. Violent confrontations have taken place, and clients and staff have expressed concern about working in sessions that run after dark. Am I a “snitch” for calling the police and reporting the problem? Emphatically NO! It is YOU who have encroached on ME and the rest of the community. Your enterprise (which pays no taxes) has commandeered our block and has brazenly made it an unsafe place in which to do business, not to mention, raise children. If you had half a brain you would have conducted your business in a way that did not negatively impact the surrounding community or you would have found a place more conducive to your line of work. If one of the other businesses in my building is violating fire code, I would call the fire marshal because I don’t want something stupid to happen that could burn the whole building down. With that in mind, why would you think that I would not call the authorities in the hopes of preventing myself or my associates from catching a stray bullet? – Because I’m afraid of being labeled a “snitch?” Please!
I’m a grown man. I did my share of dirt earlier in my life but did so with a clear plan and agenda. I knew what I was getting into and when I was getting out and I managed to NEVER draw even a wink of suspicion from anyone. The wanna-be thugs of today are a joke. Their criminal minds are lazy and inept. They are in it for the street fame and not the money. They have no plans to flip their earnings and go legitimate (even the Kennedys did that.) They have absolutely no idea of the unintended consequences of their activities and how to avoid them, and then they scream “stop snitching” when someone witnesses their reckless behavior and does the right thing. No one “snitched” on you dude… You snitched on yourself.