Friday, December 28, 2007

Decontstructing the Snitch

Bringing healing to our nation's collective culturegeist depends in part on the fair application of a judicial system that is efficient and thorough. The prosecution often turns to the testimony of witnesses in order to try and get to the truth, depending on which side you're on you might see such a witness as a here doing a civic duty or a snitch.

Someone considered a snitch isn't automatically someone of low or questionable character, like Dr. Jeffrey Wigand, pictured above left, the former tobacco executive who revealed secret information about tobacco production at Brown & Williamson that forever changed the way people look at cigarettes and the industry that manufactures them.

In some cases snitches are people of exceptional courage who risk everything for the sake of the truth.

The recent murder of veteran journalist Chauncey Bailey, 57 (pictured above right) by a 19 year-old gunman employed by Your Black Muslim Bakery, a Los Angeles organization linked to fraud, violence and a range of other crimes and the subject of an expose by Bailey. Other journalists, including Chris Thompson have accused Your Black Muslim Bakery of being a cult headed by the infamous Bey family.

But there's been a strange tendency in some African American communities to vilify any residents who cooperate with the police in the investigations of crimes committed in or around neighborhoods disproportionately affected by crime.

It stems in part from years of mistrust and fractured relationships between police and the communities they are sworn to serve and protect. Or sometimes it's merely a case of an organization striking back at those deemed to have challenged its authority or status by "snitching" against it.

Sadly, in the absence of sufficient accessible male role models, many young black kids from these communities often look to the example set by hip-hop and rap artists who often treat "snitches" with scorn and contempt in their music. In some cases it's like a neighborhood "code" of sorts; you don't rat out people from your 'hood to the police.

That's not confined to communities of color either, the same code applied to many immigrant neighborhoods in US cities before 1900.

On this morning's Brian Lehrer Show on WNYC radio, one of the guests was writer Ethan Brown, the author of a new book called Snitch: Informants, Cooperators and the Corruption of Justice

You can get it on for under 20 bucks. He examines some very interesting aspects of the snitch phenom, including the fact that thugs and criminals use it to intimidate witnesses so they can continue criminal activities in these communities.

A former NYPD LT called in to say narcotics officers have to use snitches to prosecute drug cases and emphasized that snitches must be registered with the police and monitored carefully; and they cannot have violent criminal histories.

I was the victim of an ID theft situation a few years ago by a man named Warren Evan Johnson, click this link to a 2005 press release by the New Jersey Attorney General's office. Johnson, 34 at the time, was part of a ring of people who bilked the the state of New Jersey's Unemployment Insurance program for almost $120,000.

Police from Middlesex County would not help me because Evan had agreed to testify on behalf of the state against the others involved in the unemployment indictment. The things he did to me and others who were victims of of his brazen ID theft violations were essentially shielded by the protective cloak of the snitch.

I knew Evan Johnson. As a person he was a compulsive liar, a ruthless thief and the type who would do just about anything if there were some way for him to get an angle or make a buck off of someone else's misfortune. Evan had no conscience whatsoever.

I can't indict the judicial system's use of snitches but I know Evan Johnson was a liar who would say anything prosecutors told him to say in order to save his own ass; that's the type of person the system needs in order to prosecute criminals?

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