Stop snitching t-shirts: More than a race issue

You may have seen them in the shopping malls or seen your fellow students sporting these ubiquitous T-shirts and novelty items around campus. The T-shirts have a simple message on them, and the message boldly

You may have seen them in the shopping malls or seen your fellow students sporting these ubiquitous T-shirts and novelty items around campus. The T-shirts have a simple message on them, and the message boldly warns people to “Stop Snitching.” “Stop Snitching” is an underground campaign used by gang members and criminals with the intent to scare police informants away from reporting information about their crimes.

It started in late 2004 in Baltimore, when an underground DVD entitled, “Stop Snitching,” began to circulate around the country. Besides the message rendered in this video, former resident of Baltimore and NBA Denver Nugget star Carmelo Anthony’s involvement in this video is one of the main reasons why it has garnered such mainstream attention. While Anthony may not have been speaking directly about punishing those who snitch, his mere appearance has a number of influential and prominent people questioning his character.

In a report to the Baltimore Sun newspaper last December, Anthony said “I’m just on here. … I understand that everybody is on here talking about killing and doing this and that, but its not like I’m on there with guns. … I was back on my block chillin.'” Shortly after, U.S. Rep. Elijah Cummings (D., Md.), in a written statement called on the NBA star to “take immediate action to formally condemn any association by its players with activities that promote illegal drug trade.”

Many government officials and mayors have challenged the message behind this “Stop Snitching” movement, because it seems that the message being sent is that the act of snitching is worse than the act of committing the crime.

Urban fashion has been infiltrated by the “Stop Snitching” slogan and has become a part of the culture. The mayor of Boston went as far as banning the sale of these shirts, but that won’t solve the problem. It extends further than the sale of a shirt or hat with the words “Stop Snitching” affixed.

Witness intimidation has increasingly become a major crisis in urban settings. Many believe that this movement has caused the number of informants to swiftly decline. These shirts have invaded courtrooms all across America, specifically in the urban communities, and they send out a succinct and lucid message, ‘if you snitch there will be consequences for you and possibly your family.’

Associate law professor at Loyola Law School, Alexandra Natapoff, estimates that in poor, black, urban communities, one in four men are under pressure to snitch, and one in 12 are active informants at any given time. For a long time in urban communities, snitches have been viewed by their peers as disloyal cowards.

Some aspects of hip-hop are attacking “snitches,” and while it seems that this is a new phenomenon, it is not new at all. Hip-hop stars like Lil’ Wayne, the Diplomats and Scarface make it clear in their songs that snitches will get a little more than stitches. They state, ‘If you’re real … you don’t snitch, and if you snitch, you get shot.” The Diplomats, a Harlem, N.Y.-based rap group, has reproduced these “Stop Snitching” shirts with their familiar Diplomats eagle logo on the sleeve.

The big questions are what the implications behind this shirt are? Is this simply a race issue? The issue of race is inevitably a factor to consider because these urban communities comprise a large African Americans and Hispanic population. But more importantly, is it a new issue?

This is not an issue of race, but of culture. Most of the people who fall victim to this “Stop Snitching” mentality, however will be minorities and this is simply because these are the majority of people who are living in urban communities. The implications behind these shirts are clear; snitching is bad. Before the mainstream attention, the rules surrounding snitching were not so public; it was more of a “code of the streets.”

The producer of the “Stop Snitching” tape, Rodney Bethea, has said that the police and media have exaggerated the message in the video. There is no way that the message could have been exaggerated, there was no exaggeration needed. The video speaks for itself. There are people with weapons and drugs openly exposing what they will do to “snitches.”

This movement is helping to foster a culture of people not willing to tell the truth about issues that should never be taken lightly. This shirt did not create a new issue, but it added some heat to an already firmly lit fire.

Jennifer Ogunsola can be reached at

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