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Photo: Jefferson Siegel /The New York Times
Photo: Jefferson Siegel /The New York Times

Police Complain About the “No Snitch” Policy but They Contribute to It

How the ‘no snitch’ rule destroys Black and Brown neighborhoods which stems from the failure of police to protect all.

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The ‘state of nature’ is killing minority communities which is an ultimate effect of authorities failing to honor their vow to protect all people.

English philosopher, Thomas Hobbes suggested that before governments, humans lived in a state of utter chaos and constant war because of the absolute and unpunished freedoms they had which compromised their security. 

To classify the “utter chaos and constant war” outside of governmental influence, he coined the term as the ‘state of nature.’

He argued in favor of governments to provide safety to its people in exchange for a fraction of their freedom so that peace and safety could coexist. This sacrifice of freedom he would also coin as ‘the social contract.’ 

In Hobbes’ Leviathan, he states that the contract of government overseeing and governing all people is meant to improve the quality of life than what it would have been had chaos and war reigned free.  

There are instances, however, where certain groups take matters into their own hands, abandoning the ‘social contract’ that leads them to living — to a mellowed degree — in a ‘state of nature’ when they reprimand those who rely on the government in instances of crime. 

Snitches Get Stitches

“No snitching” is an unspoken street rule in urban communities — popularly called the ‘ghetto’ or ‘hood’— of not ‘tattle-tailing’ to authorities on perpetrators who wronged one or another. 

Generally inhabited by lower-income populations and infested with violence, drugs, and gangs, the ‘alphas’ of these communities have been enforcing the “no snitching” policy for years through discouragement and intimidation. 

There is a rooted negative stigma with “snitching” because it indicates that one cannot abide by the street code of fending for themselves, seeking out their own ‘justice,’ and minding their own business. 

“Ratting” or “snitching” often comes with a death wish: as many predicted online with rapper and recent “rat” — as many labeled him — Tekashi 6ix9ine

Unlike 6ix9ine’s case, in the ‘hood,’ it is common to not cooperate with authorities despite the gravity of a crime and when asked to identify its offender. 

The more common occurrence is for a victim or their affiliate to counterattack the perpetrator or their affiliates in a way they deem fit. 

“Another inmate even said that he wouldn’t have called the police if someone had killed his own child. He said, nonchalantly, that he would take care of it on his own by finding out who did it and killing his entire family,” wrote Shannon Keys in Toledo’s The Blade about an inmate at Ryan Correctional Facility in Detroit. 

By avenging the crime committed against them, one is asserting their dominance and warning their enemies of their intolerance to be prey and gaining respect and instilling fear as a result. 

If the victim chose not to avenge the crime, they risk becoming recurring targets because of a now-perceived weak demeanor. But by retaliating, they create a never-ending feud that most times end in murder(s), resembling the “constant war” warned by Hobbes.

In other words, in the ‘ghetto,’ one is ‘damned if they do and damned if they don’t.’ 

In Philadelphia, that dynamic resulted in 356 homicides in 2019 with 2020 looking to surpass it considering the homicide rate is up another 24% as of June 15, 2020. 

Cooperate with the Police? What’s the Point?

If the ‘state of nature’ is a state of war of all against all, then the ‘hood’ is a modern ‘state of nature.’

The pride and fear of tarnishing a ‘tough’ reputation blockade these communities’ access to authority outlets. If the authorities are blocked or rarely utilized, it leaves these neighborhoods vulnerable to the absolute and unreprimanded freedoms of others if it is not brought to the attention of authorities. 

In 2018, The Washington Post started a project analyzing data from the last decade regarding unsolved murders in 55 cities across the U.S. It found that Black victims represented three-quarters of the nearly 26,000 unsolved murders analyzed. 

While unsolved murders do show evidence of a “no snitching” community mentality, it is also evidence of negligent police forces that fail to protect and instead coerce, wrongfully convict, and unnecessarily brutalize the populations they’re meant to serve. 

The recent murders of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Rayshard Brooks in Atlanta, and Sean Monterrosa in California are evidence of this police negligence and abuse, that only reinforce the distrust and lack of cooperation of Black and Brown communities with authorities.   

This dynamic has driven Black and Brown communities to ‘the state of nature.’ The "no snitch" rule is an unofficial cop-out from the ‘social contract’ with a government failing to uphold its own end of the deal. 

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