How Baltimore, Other Cities Fight “Stop Snitching” Drive


Communities around the nation are seeking ways to combat a rising culture of witness intimidation, says Time magazine. Despite a dip in 2004, homicide rates have increased since 2000; in some towns it’s as difficult as ever to prosecute shootings and murders. Prosecutors say the popularity of “Stop Snitching” T shirts shows that thugs in some places continue to control the streets. Whether out of fear or allegiance to the code of silence, witnesses aren’t talking, and cities are increasingly exerting their own pressure on no-show witnesses. Few cities have it as bad as Baltimore. The highest-crime areas tend to be close-knit, insular communities where everybody knows everybody else’s business, including who’s talking to the police. Mix in a high-stakes drug trade and a flood of handguns, and you have a recipe for a pitiless war on witnesses. Baltimore’s problems made national news in 2002 when a family of seven were killed in an arson attack after they helped police identify drug dealers in their neighborhood.

The climate of fear has worsened. In 2004 it got a slogan–Stop Snitching–with the appearance of an underground DVD with that title. The video, which gained attention around the country in part because of a cameo by NBA superstar Carmelo Anthony, is both a celebration of thug life and an orgy of threats and denunciations against crime witnesses who cooperate with police. Stop Snitching T shirts, visors and other apparel have become a fashion phenom in inner-city America. The apparel has been banned from Massachusetts courthouses as of January. Boston Mayor Thomas Menino has pressured store owners to stop selling the merchandise, at one point threatening to send city officials into shops to seize the shirts; the American Civil Liberties Union complained that he was stepping on the freedom of expression.


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