The reason I consider the "stop snitching" meme on t-shirts an ill advised message isn't that I think criminals should tell on others for reduced sentences -- it's that gangbangers and drug dealers are busy equating "snitches" with all witnesses in popular culture, as that particular commenter did when he announced that a "real" snitch was "someone who selflessly observes others wrong doings and reports them to authority for the sake of obeying the law." Well, if you'd call that person a "snitch," then I don't support a message of "stop snitching." I never would tell someone who witnessed a violent crime, for example, not to report it. That's why the guys wearing Stop Snitching t-shirts into court to intimidate witnesses deserve little sympathy, IMO.
But I do think that snitching, as its own, shady, little-discussed, institutionalized system underlying many of law enforcement's most abusive practices, should be dramatically scaled back by orders of magnitude. It's not the Nazis but the East German Stasi -- Cold War Communists -- that the American snitch system, to me, most closely resembles, particularly in poor minority neighborhoods.
Finally, I've examined enough of these cases to know that snitches can be victims, too. Look at the case of Derrick Megress in Hearne, a mentally ill repeat offender well known to the DA since his youth who was coerced and manipulated into targeting innocent people. Nothing excuses his role, but to focus only on him would have let the DA and the cops off the hook. That's why ACLU sued in Hearne -- so that wouldn't happen. See the video about Megress and the Hearne case linked here.
Would I think less of a friend who snitched or who informed on our personal dealings? No question I'd be disappointed, probably angry. But if they did so to avoid years of prison time, I'd also blame a legal system designed to coerce my friend to betray me. Intimidating defendants one at a time is a doomed and misguided strategy, IMO. Snitches, as Christ said of the poor, will always be with us. What's needed are solutions that limit abuses and infuse some integrity into the process.
See Grits' prior writing on the subject of confidential informants:
- Here a snitch, there a snitch
- Snitch reforms in other states cited
- Requiring corroboration for eyewitness testimony might have saved Ruben Cantu
- What can happen when you snitch?
- Snitching undermines justice institutions
- Interesting links about snitches
- Failed 2005 Texas snitch reform
- Snitch rules protect apparently mendacious DEA agent
- A prison guard's aversion to snitches
- DEA snitch data lost
- FBI violates snitch rules
- Wichita Falls snitch makes false accusation
- Self-serving snitch at center of John Dillinger capture