A Snitch in Time: An Historical Sketch of Black Informing During Slavery

Andrea Dennis

University of Georgia Law School

September 1, 2013

Marquette Law Review, Vol. 97, 2014, Forthcoming
UGA Legal Studies Research Paper No. 2013-25

This article sketches the socio-legal creation, use, and regulation of informants in the Black community during slavery and the Black community’s response at that time. Despite potentially creating benefits such as crime control and sentence reduction, some Blacks today are convinced that cooperation with government investigations and prosecutions should be avoided. One factor contributing to this perspective is America’s reliance on Black informants to police and socially control Blacks during slavery, the Civil Rights Movement, and the Wars on Drugs, Crime and Gangs. Notwithstanding this historical justification for non-cooperation, only a few informant law and policy scholars have examined closely the Black community’s relationship with informing. Furthermore, even among this small group of works, noticeably absent are historical explorations of Black America’s experience with informing during slavery. Drawn using a variety of primary and secondary historical and legal sources, this article develops a snapshot of the past revealing many similarities between the Black experience with informing both while enslaved and in contemporary times. Consideration of these resemblances during present debate on the topic may help to facilitate nuanced conversation as to whether and how the modern Black community and government should approach using informants in current times.

Number of Pages in PDF File: 57

Keywords: slavery, civil rights, informing, snitching, criminal law, informants, slave

JEL Classification: K14

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Date posted: September 22, 2013 ; Last revised: October 1, 2015

Suggested Citation

Dennis, Andrea, A Snitch in Time: An Historical Sketch of Black Informing During Slavery (September 1, 2013). Marquette Law Review, Vol. 97, 2014, Forthcoming; UGA Legal Studies Research Paper No. 2013-25. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2325665

Contact Information

Andrea Dennis (Contact Author)
University of Georgia Law School ( email )
225 Herty Drive
Athens, GA 30602
United States
706-542-3130 (Phone)

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