A few days ago one of my regular readers, Gyamfua (what’s up girl?!) emailed me and asked my opinion on the “no snitching” phenomenon in the black community. After thinking about it for a while, and watching the video link* she sent me, I realized that haven’t thought much about one of the most notorious codes of the streets in some time. It was a major theme in my teenage years, but after going to college and starting a family I moved away from those kind of topics. But the part of her question about teaching my son about the “downfalls of not telling” and how I would “protect him from the criticism that comes with telling” gave me pause. Suddenly I understood that I would be the person that gives my son advice on snitching, and a thousand other things that my own dad never did.
It was a coincidence that she asked me about snitching when she did. During Devin’s birthday weekend we went to visit his five year old cousin C.J. Whenever C.J. did something that could be deemed naughty (jumping down a flight of stairs, throwing a toy, etc.) Devin came to me and, well, snitched on him. At first I wanted to be supportive of my boy who has recently decided that it is his job to police all kids (at the Zoo a few weeks ago he shouted to a group of kids climbing on one of the guide rails “Hey, get down from there that’s dangerous! Behave yourselves!”). But eventually I had to tell him that he needed to stop tattling on his cousin. Part of the reason that I told him to lay off the ratting was that it was getting annoying. Another part was that I didn’t want my son to become a snitch.
I’ve lived in good and bad ‘hoods most my life (after my father shipped all his sons off from Homestead Florida to Bed-Stuy Brooklyn). I’ve seen my share of crimes go down, and I’ve had my fair share of friends murdered. Ironically several of my family members are police officers with the NYPD, but even with that I have never able to reconcile the streets and the law. Regardless of where I stand my goal is to teach my son to make good decisions. I also want him to know that a real man does the right thing even in the face of adversity.
My sincere hope is that I’m in a better ‘hood before my son is faced with the task of learning the code of the streets – if you don’t live in the streets there is no reason to know its rules. Sadly, some of the rule-based decisions that kids have to make these days can be soul crushing, especially when they know that doing the right thing may get them hurt, or even killed. I think that’s what it comes down to in the end: The code is about fear of reprisal, not about protecting criminals. That said, if my boy is not in a better environment, I’m going to have to do what I have to do, and say what I have to say to ensure his safety. If I have to break the code (which one?) in the process, so be it….
My son has been literally hanging over my shoulder as I finish this post. He just read the second to last sentence (I helped him with “ensure”) and asked: Who’s safety, mine or yours? “Yours” I replied as I gave him a kiss.Â He bursted out laughing.
(*I’m still having trouble embedding links into my posts. Here’s the URL of the video that Gyamfua sent me: https://malecare.org
re: “…if you donâ€™t live in the streets there is no reason to know its rules…”
There’s quite a bit of “bleed-over” between different communities. Some poor folks try to approximate the lifestyles and mannerisms of the rich and some of the rich try to emulate the appearance and speech of the poor.
I’m confident that living in “the right neighborhood” will decrease the chances that kids like Devin won’t have to know certain “rules,” but I’m disappointed that it won’t eliminate them.
Thank you so much for posting your thoughts…however, I have to agree with West…I grew up in the suburbs and as a kid rap music and violence was always the problem of the “hood” but as I grew older those kids who were younger than me started crossing that imaginary line and making the violence and message of rap there own. It became that even though their parents combined income was over $50,000 (which is good for Naptown), they still acted like they were living on foodstamps and government cheese.
Stupid images and messages are being absorbed by our children whether we like it or not. Now I understand why my brother only lets his kids listen to James Brown and other old skool artists.
The message that rap music sends is starting to override the common sense responsible parents are trying to instill in their kids.
Oops I realized I never answered the question: For my own 4 year old and the 4 month old…I would teach my girls that if its a non-violent offense that doesnt’ deal with drugs..its none of your business i.e. cheating on test, screwing in the bathroom,gambling, stealing someones stuff etc. If you see or hear about a rape, killing someone, beating up someone, dealing dope….then yeah I would tell, but discreetly if possible. The drug thing is iffy too…sometimes I think..hey they gotta live…but I know in the back of my mind..it will lead to violence if turfs gets crossed…hmm…there is no easy answers!
I go through that, “Stop tattling on your little brother” thing every day. My husband and I had this snitching culture clash when we first got married. You know that scene from Training Day where Denzel takes Ethan Hawke to the house and leaves him there with the guys who are playing cards? Well, those guys would be sitting out on our porch even though they don’t live in our building. I’d want to call the police and he’d be totally against it. In his experience, officers had told the criminals who had called. “Yeah, this house right here called.” Now that gentrification has gone down bigtime in our hood, I don’t see those guys as much…only when the young yuppie hipsters want to buy some drugs.
Well….I understand the “code” thing, I don’t think its a valid code or should I say acceptable.
I myself, don’t call the police for minor crap, but If I knew someone murdered someone else, especially an innocent person, I’d hope I’d tell. BUT, I don’t live in the “hood” so I don’t know what I would do if I had that enviornment were telling could get me killed.
Part of the problem that you hit on is the fear of reprisal. It sucks that things have gotten to the point that the best way to ensure a healthy living is to ignore certain crimes, if not all of them.
Police don’t help sometimes either. I think I share the same philosphy as you have.
I can’t wait for my son to hang over my shoulders when I type. He’s still so small that he just prefers to run over and punch ever key on my keyboard and run away. Usually takes me 5 to 10 minutes to figure out how to fix my computer.
i blogged about this phenomenon last year. i don’t agree with the “no snitch” code, BUT then again, WHO LIKES a SNITCH?!?
doesn’t everyone (community) have a code against snitching on their comrads: the Mafia doesn’t snitch, the Police (“the thin blue line”) doesn’t snitch when they’ve popped a few caps in an unarmed civilian, the boyz in the hood don’t snitch to the cops, the KKK members didn’t snitch when they lynched another Black man, the LA Jury didn’t snitch when OJ was on trial, we all know what happens to a “snitch” in jail!, when i was in college my frat didn’t snitch on the other frats about illegal keg parties or hazing, when you were kids you didn’t snitch on your friends, and the Fifth Amendment means that you have the right to NOT snitch on yourself!
so even though i find this behavior to be abhorrant, i’ve participated in it and i don’t know ANYONE who would give up a friend (or associate) to the cops, their employer, or their priest. Keith even got tired of his son snitching on his cousin!
NO SNITCHIN’… it ain’t just for the streets!