Anti-Snitching Norms and Community Loyalty
56 Pages Posted: 21 Oct 2009 Last revised: 10 Jul 2012
Date Written: September 20, 2010
In recent years a troubling trend has emerged within a number of poor, black communities. Termed “Stop Snitching,” it has manifested itself in the form community members’ refusing to cooperate with police investigations of community crimes. The result of this widespread refusal to cooperate has been a reduced number of crimes solved within these communities; without cooperating witnesses, it has proven exceedingly difficult for police to make criminal cases.
Reactions to Stop Snitching have taken two predominant forms, both of which are mistaken. The first, most often attributed to law enforcement officers, is contempt. To them, community members who do not assist in criminal investigations are violating the ethical obligation all citizens have to aid in the arrest and prosecution of criminal actors. The second reaction to Stop Snitching, most often coming from citizens largely isolated from poor, black communities, is confusion. Assuming the police to be allies of the citizenry, they wonder why anyone would even entertain the notion of refusing to help the police solve community crimes.
This Article suggests a different understanding of Stop Snitching, arguing that poor, black community members’ refusal to cooperate with police investigations should be viewed as neither ethically condemnable nor inexplicable, but rather as a natural extension of the innate human aspiration to be loyal. It does so by situating Stop Snitching within the existing literature on loyalty and asserting that the refusal to cooperate with police represents a privileging of community loyalty over loyalty to the state. Throughout the various strata of contemporary society, such privileging of the familiar over the remote is common, and Stop Snitching is neither puzzling nor reprehensible when viewed as a manifestation of this manner of prioritization. Once Stop Snitching is understood as a reflection of the weak loyalty bonds that exist between police officers and the poor, black communities they serve, it becomes clear that it can only be curtailed and ultimately eliminated through police efforts aimed at strengthening these bonds. This Article closes with a discussion of the steps police should take in order to succeed in this regard.
Keywords: Snitching, Loyalty
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