August 17, 2007


OK so I just finished watching this 60 minutes article about snitching and hip-hop culture. I gotta say it was one of the most biased, self-superior, and all around worst pieces of non-journalism I've ever seen. In case you have no idea what I'm talking about a little background. Apparently the latest, greatest outrage is what's being called the glorification of non-cooperation with police. It's being portrayed as one of the many evils of hip-hop and by extension another "bad-thing"tm Black people do.

First up I'd like to know how hip-hop got singled out for this honor. We've got a long history of pop culture references that demonize snitches. Ever seen a mob movie. Killing the snitch is a recurring theme in every organized crime movie I've ever seen. Ever been called a tattletale? Ever been called a busybody? Minding your own business is one of the first lessons you learn as a kid regardless of where you grow up. I can remember being 10 years old and instead of a teacher (White teacher, White school just in case you were wondering) dealing with someone who was aggravating me I was told to stop being a whiner and a tattletale. It's not surprising that anyone would choose to avoid cooperating with the police if they could.

Aside from our social conditioning, the police make themselves hard to work with. Police misconduct is a very serious thing. It's amazing that it isn't dealt with more severely and directly considering that it has the effect of creating a negative image of law enforcement that encourages people to mistrust them. Many immigrants come from countries where the police are far more corrupt than they are here. In Mexico the Federales are notorious for their involvement with organized crime. In many places you have to bribe the police to get them to do anything for you. In some you have to bribe them to keep them from doing anything to you. And in this country, the police have a long history of misconduct especially where minorities, the poor, and dissidents are concerned. Kent state alone is enough to justify anyones mistrust of the police. Sad thing is, many people don't have to dig through history to find reasons to fear or hate the police.

In our low income communities populated by the poor (regardless of race or national origin) police misconduct is often a way of life. Police are given open license to harass residents. If you're poor then you're a trouble maker. If you're poor and black then you're a drug dealer. Poor and an immigrant, then you're probably an illegal. The police hardly show their faces in any neighborhood anymore, let alone a poor one, unless they're trying to arrest someone. I grew up on military bases. We used to see our officer friendly take his cruise through the neighborhood every day. He would stop and talk to us for a few minutes. Ask us about school. Remind us to stay out of trouble. How can you expect to develop a respect for the police if the only time you see them is when they're dragging one of your neighbors off to jail. Why would you cooperate with police when you watch them ride past crack houses and gangsters and hassle you and your friends who aren't actually doing anything?

Even with a lifetime of positive experiences with police, I don't trust them. Why? Because with all the crime going on around these people always seem to have time to hassle someone who isn't doing anything. I was nearly arrested for refusing to leave a movie theater. Maybe we should have just left but see my friends and I had this idea that since I had paid for a show I had the right to sit and wait in the lobby for my show to start like everyone else instead of being made to leave the property and come back.

But those are the small problems. The big problems, the big problems are what happened to Sean Bell (unarmed man shot by 50+ times, 31 shots from a single gun), Ronald Madison (mentally disabled man shot while running away from police), Robert Davis (beaten senseless by 4 cops after asking one for directions), and hundreds of nameless others who have been brutalized and murdered by police in the last 2 years alone. Yes I said murdered, that's what you call killing an unarmed civilian not posing a credible threat right? These incidents may well be random and infrequent. But every time it happens, it helps to foster an attitude of mistrust. I remember being a teenager and being taught the steps to surviving a traffic stop. Something like 3 kids that year had been killed by police who claimed they were reaching for a weapon that of course wasn't there. This kind of thing happens all over the world to people of all races in all sorts of countries. Police brutality and harassment are a fact of life for millions and not cooperating with police is seen as a means to survival.

This is why I say it's amazing that police misconduct isn't dealt with more severely. It's bad enough that some poor bastard got blown away but the idea that there's any defense for it. Watch the video and tell me with a straight face that Rodney King deserved that beating. Tell me with a straight face that Robert Davis deserved that beating. Why aren't the cops that did that in jail? Why did the city and the police department rally around them? As bad as police misconduct is, the Blue wall makes it a thousand times worse. Because as a citizen I have to weigh that a corrupt cop can say whatever he wants to about me and be believed. He can do whatever he wants to do to me and get away with it. Why would I ever go near a cop if I didn't have to?

People who live in high crime neighborhoods (regardless of race or ethnicity) aren't just victimized by the police. They're also victimized by the criminals in their communities. Cooperating with the police can make you a target of deadly violence. Ever hear of the Witness Protection Program? It exists because criminals kill witnesses. Not that inner city gangs are treated with the same consideration as organized crime syndicates (even though they should be). And not that the kid in the inner city who sees a gang murder and is being harassed to testify actually will receive anything more than minimal protection. Part of that is a local law enforcement funding issue but still, if you can't protect me, why should I stick my neck out for you.

Now, of course hip hop stars aren't living in the inner city. Many of them aren't even from violent neighborhoods. But the truth of the industry is that hip-hop came from the broken down and bloody streets. It was the people of the inner city who gave birth to the genre and who first supported it. And to an extent, the rules of the inner city have become the rules of the industry. Even those who grew up in communities where the police weren't a threat have to live and work with people who did. In the words of Cam-ron (not the most eloquent representative or the brightest), "I still have to work in this industry."

People see cooperating with police as a simple thing. You give them your information and you walk away. But for millions of people all over the world, the personal risks taken by someone who talks to the police are very real and very powerful and it's a very easy decision to walk away from the police. If law enforcement wants to see things change then they first need to clean up their act. No more unarmed kids getting shot. No more racial profiling. Seriously implement community policing. Protect the people instead of destroying them. Do that and over time things will change. To be honest, CBS should know better than to pull this kind of stunt. They should know that putting the blame for a problem solely on one group of people (and one large group of people at that) is wrong. It's the kind of thing we were supposed to have gotten past decades ago. The fact that they still think it's OK to single out an entire industry and an entire community out of millions of others says we as a nation haven't changed as much as we think we have.

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