Sunday, March 11

Stop snitching

Police in minority neighborhoods are confronting "the spread of the gangland code of silence, or omerta, from organized crime to the population at large," according to Jeremy Khan in the April issue of The Atlantic.

This code of silence is summed up by the motto "stop snitching," seen on caps and T-shirts and heard in songs. "The metastasis of this culture of silence in minority communities has been facilitated by a gradual breakdown of trust in the police and the government," Khan writes. He traces it to the use of informants against groups such as the Black Panthers, as well as against low-level drug dealers in the War on Drugs.

Khan adds: "The growing culture of silence helps to legitimize witness intimidation."

He also mentions timing: Arrest and conviction rates for violent crimes have fallen since the late 1990s. "At the same time, crime has spiked," he writes. "Murder rates have risen more or less steadily since 2000."

To sum up, three things have happened since 2000: The culture of "stop snitching" has spread, witness intimidation has become the norm, and violent crime has skyrocketed.

Now, why could that be?

Let's go back to Nov. 2, 2000 -- five days before the presidential election. WPXT, a Fox station in Portland, Maine, reported that George W. Bush had been arrested for drunken driving in Kennebunkport in 1976. CNN reported: "Bush said the timing of the initial news report, just days before Americans elect a new president, was 'interesting.' When asked where the story may have originated, he said, 'I've got my suspicions.'"

His suspicions. You have "suspicions" about wrongdoing. No one says they have "suspicions" that someone did something laudatory.

Message from the president-to-be: Stop snitching.

Seventeen days later, a few dozen angry Republican operatives flew from D.C. to Miami and engaged in the infamous Brooks Brothers Riot. They chanted "Stop the fraud!" and "Let us in!" when vote counters at Miami-Dade County election headquarters tried to move from one room to another. The vote counters were so scared that they stopped the hand count, with 10,750 ballots to go.

The riot "dealt a devastating blow to Al Gore's presidential campaign," John Lantigua wrote a few days later in, while the election result was still in doubt. "The vice president's attorneys are arguing that intimidation influenced the canvassing board's decision to stop the hand recount and that it should be resumed."


Shortly into Bush's term, a Houston Chronicle reporter named Bennett Roth asked Ari Fleischer, the White House press secretary, about the Bush twins' substance abuse after they were caught sneaking into a bar while underage. Fleischer called Roth to tell him that his question had been "noted in the building."

More intimidation.

Whenever word gets out about the latest illegality or wrongdoing, the Bush administration dons its "Stop snitching" cap.

  • Joe Wilson writes a New York Times op-ed explaining how Bush lied in his State of the Union speech when he said Iraq had tried to buy yellowcake uranium from Africa. Cheney or Bush orders Wilson's wife outed as a covert CIA employee.

    Message: Stop snitching. Another message: You'd better watch out if you're a witness to the Bush Administration's crimes.

  • "Months after the Sept. 11 attacks, President Bush secretly authorized the National Security Agency to eavesdrop on Americans and others inside the United States to search for evidence of terrorist activity without the court-approved warrants ordinarily required for domestic spying, according to government officials," begins the New York Times's blockbuster story about illegal surveillance, published in December 2005. The Bush administration reacts by speculating whether to prosecute the reporters.

    Intimidation. "Stop snitching."

  • Climate-change scientists working for the federal government are told to keep their mouths shut about global warming.

    Stop snitching.

  • Dick Cheney shoots a man in the face. His aides tell him to get the story out. He refuses. Finally, 21 hours after the incident, the owner of the ranch where the shooting took place calls a reporter for the local paper.

    Stop snitching.

    You probably can think of other examples. This White House is rife with the "stop snitching" culture. It isn't just a ghetto thing.

    So when Khan writes in The Atlantic that the culture of "stop snitching" afflicts mainly minority communities, he's missing the big picture. When he blames hip-hop singers and a professional basketball player (!) for showing "that threatening snitches has become mainstream," he's acting like he hasn't noticed any news coming out of the White House in the past six years.

    The president and vice president are role models of the worst kind, spreading word that it's OK to retaliate against "snitches" and to intimidate witnesses. If the White House culture of "stop snitching" takes hold elsewhere, and people get hurt and killed because of it, well, they're merely collateral damage.