A Feb. 2 indictment of 13 men who federal prosecutors say are involved in a violent Baltimore drug conspiracy called the “Rice Organization” seeks forfeiture of co-conspirators’ assets—including an East Baltimore property that state records show is co-owned by actress Jada Pinkett Smith. The property, 1538 N. Caroline St., is a three-story corner building on a 1,440-square-foot lot in the heart of Oliver, a neighborhood long ravaged by the illegal-drug economy. The indictment does not mention what role the property played in the alleged conspiracy, only that the government would seek “all of the right, title and interest of Chet Pajardo, the defendant, in the real property and appurtenances” there.
The $22,000 purchase of the house by Pinkett Smith (listed as “Jada K. Pinkett” in the property records; her middle name is Keran) and Chet Pajardo, a 36-year-old Owings Mills man named as a defendant in the case, was recorded with the Maryland Department of Assessments and Taxation on Nov. 17, 1994. At the time, Pinkett Smith was 23, had already appeared in her feature-film debut, Menace II Society, and was on theater screens co-starring with Keenan Ivory Wayans in A Low Down Dirty Shame. Less than three years later, in 1997, she married fellow actor Will Smith in a ceremony at the Cloisters in Baltimore County.
Ken Hertz, senior partner of the Beverly Hills, Calif., law firm Goldring, Hertz, and Lichtenstein, who represents Pinkett Smith, told City Paper on Feb. 10 that the actress, who grew up in Baltimore and was living here in 1994, met Pajardo about 10 years ago, when Pajardo was working for United Parcel Service. “He was an acquaintance,” Hertz says, explaining that Pinkett Smith split the down payment with Pajardo and has been paying her share of the monthly mortgage payments ever since. She’s had no contact with Pajardo in many years, Hertz contends, and she’d forgotten she owned the building because her accountant made the monthly payments.
Despite the neighborhood’s plight—two blocks away in 2003, for example, all seven members of the Dawson family were burned to death in their home by one of the drug dealers they’d been trying to run off—Hertz says Pinkett Smith’s was “not a dumb investment, because it was so little money.” The Sun reported on Feb. 12 that Hertz also said it was “very important to note that we’ve been assured that she is not a target of the investigation.” (City Paper first reported on its web site that Pajardo and Pinkett Smith co-own the Caroline Street property on Feb 10.)
Pajardo’s defense attorney in the federal conspiracy case, James Gitomer, told City Paper that “I don’t speak to reporters about my clients” when asked if he would be willing to answer some questions about Pajardo.
Members of the Rice Organization, according to the federal indictment, are charged with murders in connection with a drug-trafficking conspiracy that yielded at least $27 million since 1995. Prosecutors allege the group has brought at least 3,000 pounds of cocaine and heroin to the streets of Baltimore. Chet Pajardo faces one conspiracy count, though the details of his alleged crimes are not given.
One Rice member appears in the locally produced Stop Fucking Snitching DVD that drew widespread attention late last fall as an unusual example of witness intimidation doubling as entertainment. Another of those indicted as an ostensible part of the Rice Organization, Anthony B. Leonard, co-owned the former Antique Row restaurant Downtown Southern Blues, which was housed in a North Howard Street property owned by the family of Kenneth Antonio Jackson. Jackson is a strip-club owner and an ex-con who, in the 1980s, became famous as a top lieutenant for the heroin-trafficking organization of Melvin Williams, a major figure in Baltimore’s drug underworld of the 1960s, ’70s, and ’80s.
Pajardo has a noteworthy connection to city politics. On Sept. 8, 2003, he gave $200 to the re-election campaign of city Comptroller Joan Pratt (D) at a fund raiser catered by Downtown Southern Blues; the event brought in a total of $11,500. Four days later, on Sept. 12, 2003, Pajardo donated $100 to the campaign of Democrat Charese Williams, who challenged incumbent City Councilwoman Stephanie Rawlings Blake (D-6th District) and lost in the September 2003 primary. Pratt also donated to Williams’ upstart campaign, giving $1,500 of the $22,500 it raised. Pratt did not respond to requests for comment by press time; attempts to reach Williams were unsuccessful.
During a Feb. 9 visit to the Caroline Street property co-owned by Pajardo and Pinkett Smith, the building was boarded up but had a fresh coat of paint on the entrance. It appeared structurally sound and well-maintained, though its property-tax assessment dropped from $14,100 to $3,000 this year, according to state records. A pay phone was attached to its outside wall. When a photographer visited the building the next day, a woman driving by in a car shouted out, “Is that Jada’s place?” On another Feb. 10 visit, an unidentified man was seen locking up and leaving the property.
Baltimore City Board of Municipal and Zoning Appeals records indicate that Everton Allen applied in April 2003 to use a portion of the building as a grocery store, though housing records indicate that the property has been vacant since 2000. A phone number could not be found for Allen at the Randallstown address given in his application.
The previous zoning application for the Caroline Street property was filed in 1996 by Brian E. Macklin, who wanted to open a convenience store at the site. A Polaroid of the building contained in the zoning file shows a Pepsi-Cola sign hanging over the entrance that reads andy’s grocery. A copy of Macklin’s application was sent by the zoning board to “C&J Inc., c/o Chet Pajardo,” and the file notes that in 1993 Pajardo and Jay Anderson pulled an occupancy permit for the address. Court records indicate that Macklin’s current address is on Kentbury Court in the Lyonswood subdivision of Owings Mills, the same small cul-de-sac as another Pajardo property that is under federal forfeiture as part of the Rice Organization indictment. The listed phone number for Macklin’s home-improvement company, Sorgen LLC, is disconnected, and no other contact information for him could be found.
An internet search of the Caroline Street address turns up the name of a business, Peaceful Image Inc., located there. Its corporate charter was forfeited for failure to file tax returns for 1998, according to state records, and it was incorporated by Pajardo on Aug. 15, 1995, “to engage in the business of retailing, wholesaling, manufacturing, and distributing clothing and accessories.” The founding board members were Pajardo, Leon Dickerson, and Michelle Narrington. A year earlier, on Aug. 3, 1994, these three and another individual, Condessa Tucker, registered Peaceful Image as a trade name, and stated its business as “silkscreen, embroidery, T-shirts, and hats.” The company’s principal office was in a building Pajardo owned between 1992 and 2000, on the 1000 block of West 43rd Street in Medfield.
Leon R. Dickerson was identified on the Peaceful Image trade-name application as Leon Dickerson III. An obituary for Leon R. Dickerson III was published in The Sun on Dec. 21, 2001, after he was killed in a stabbing. He was 31 years old and described as a social worker and basketball coach who worked with students struggling with learning disabilities and emotional challenges. According to Baltimore County Police records, Dickerson, who was married, was killed in a lovers’ triangle when the estranged husband of his girlfriend entered her Cockeysville apartment and stabbed both of them; only Dickerson died from his wounds. Dickerson’s parents are neighbors of Pajardo and Macklin in the Owings Mills subdivision of Lyonswood.
When Pajardo and Pinkett Smith purchased the Caroline Street property in 1994, the address given for property-tax mailings was in the 2300 block of North Monroe Street in West Baltimore. The owner, then and now, is listed as Wahseeola C. Pajardo. City Paper’s attempts to reach her at her listed phone number were unsuccessful.
This is an expanded version of a story first reported online on Feb. 10.
Date: Wednesday, August 10, 2005By: Gregory Kane, BlackAmericaWeb.com
Even a broken clock, the saying goes, is right at least twice a day. It is in the spirit of that piece of wisdom that I take indeed another look at the infamous, notorious, but all-too-true “Stop Snitching” DVD. Last week I described how the black men in the video overwork the N-word -- using it to describe themselves and the “snitches” and “rats” they want to kill -- and said their position at the bottom rung of American society is due, at least in part, to their discernible self-hatred. But can any good come of the DVD? It turns out some good may already have come from it. But the emphasis is on that word “may.” This involves a situation in which those accused may indeed be innocent. But if they aren’t, then Rodney Bethea and Skinny Suge, the Baltimore men who produced “Stop Snitching,” may have performed a public service. <script> document.write('<a href="http://ads.nandomedia.com/RealMedia/ads/click_lx.ads/www.blackamericaweb.com/site.aspx/sayitloud/kane811/134424661/Button3/BlackAmericaWeb/Infiniti_QX56_300IF_ROS_0805/Infiniti_QX56_300PR_CONTENT_0705.html/63646263373530613432666666383230?134424661" target="_blank" target=_blank><img border="0" src="http://view.atdmt.com/TRA/view/blckeita0030000011tra/direct/01/134424661" /></a>'); </script> <noscript> <a href="http://ads.nandomedia.com/RealMedia/ads/click_lx.ads/www.blackamericaweb.com/site.aspx/sayitloud/kane811/134424661/Button3/BlackAmericaWeb/Infiniti_QX56_300IF_ROS_0805/Infiniti_QX56_300PR_CONTENT_0705.html/63646263373530613432666666383230?134424661" target="_blank" target=_blank><img border="0" src="http://view.atdmt.com/TRA/view/blckeita0030000011tra/direct/01/134424661" /></a> </noscript> In one part of the video a man sitting on some steps asks why no drug dealers who work the corner of Brice Street and Edmondson Avenue in West Baltimore aren’t “catching cases.” A rough translation is that dealers who work that area aren’t getting arrested. The man then tells why those dealers aren’t “catching cases.” “The word is they work for King and Murray,” he says. “Don’t nobody go to trial. You dig what I’m saying?” I dig, bro. I dig only too well. King is William A. King. Murray is Antonio L. Murray. Before they were arrested in May, both were Baltimore plainclothes police officers. They have been accused of taking drug dealers into custody, stealing their product and selling the dope on the street. Federal prosecutors allege that King and Murray used a petty criminal and drug addict named Antonio Mosby as their confidential informant and lookout. In other words, Mosby is allegedly a snitch. It would be oh-what-a-wonderful world if this business of snitching and witness intimidation were black and white. But it isn’t. On the one side we have the criminals -- the drug dealers, thugs and gangstas like the ones in the “Stop Snitching” video -- who talk about killing rats and snitches. Then we have the folks in law enforcement, who call the video an attempt at witness intimidation. Skinny Suge has said it’s no such thing, and he’s right. The “snitches” and “rats” referred to in the video are criminals who’ve been caught by police and who, in an effort to weasel out of a long sentence, give up every other criminal in a 50-mile radius. Some of these guys tell the truth. Some of them don’t. Some end up like Mosby, as “confidential informants.” And as a Howard County police official told me several years ago, confidential informants are people who should themselves, more often than not, be in jail. Warren Grace was a confidential informant for the FBI. After Baltimore cops picked Grace up on drug and weapons charges, he turned snitch and informed on two men who were part of a drug ring. Grace was supposed to be on a home monitoring device as part of his agreement to be an FBI informant, but he undid that device and went driving around Baltimore.
It was during one such drive that cops stopped Grace and found drugs in his vehicle. Federal prosecutors neglected to tell attorneys for the two men Grace testified against about those little details. Their trial ended in a plea bargain.
More unreliable than the “confidential informant” snitch is the jailhouse snitch. Marshall “Eddie” Conway, a former member of the Black Panther Party, was convicted in the early 1970s of murdering two Baltimore police officers on the testimony of a jailhouse snitch.
Michael Austin, a Baltimore man who spent 27 years in prison for murder, was convicted on the testimony of another jailhouse snitch, who told the truth before he died (Just in case, I suppose, there really is a just God out there somewhere.). Brady Spicer, an Annapolis, Md. man, spent seven years in prison after a jailhouse snitch falsely implicated him in the near fatal beating of a businessman. That snitch also recanted before he died.
The making of this dvd was no surprise to me. As the drug war escalates, and as more of our streets disciples become more technologically savvy, more of this material will be produced, or only one can hope.
Torrent Link for Stop Snitching DVD
Post here if the torrent does not seem to be working. Through this online discussion, perhaps whomever seeded it will fix it, that is if it needs alleviation.
Aurora - Christopher Johnson doesn't see anything wrong with the T-shirt he owns that says "Stop Snitch'n," but police say the popular shirts are a disturbing trend.
Stores are quickly selling out of the $25 T-shirts, an offshoot of last year's infamous "Stop Snitching" DVD, which featured Baltimore drug dealers talking in depth about killing people who tell on them.
"This is a terrible message to be out there," said Aurora police Sgt. Rudy Herrera, particularly after a double homicide in June that killed a key witness a week before a murder trial.
"Those of us who have been following this case, when you see a shirt like that, it leaves a bad taste in your mouth," Herrera said.
Javad Marshall-Fields, 22, was shot to death along with his fiancée, Vivian Wolfe, 22. Marshall-Fields' mother defends the First Amendment's protection of free speech but is outraged by the shirts that police say are meant to intimidate witnesses.
"My son was standing up for justice in the community because he witnessed a crime," said Rhonda Fields. "If people are advocating not talking to the police when it relates to crime, it's wrong. It's an injustice to our community."
Christine Wolfe, Vivian Wolfe's mother, said, "I understand business. But money is not everything. How can they do that?"
The original DVD became national news because it includes a brief appearance by Denver Nuggets forward Carmelo Anthony, who has since apologized.
In a statement released Wednesday through the Nuggets, Anthony pleaded for people to move on.
"It's disappointing that some people don't focus on constructive activities in their communities," he said.
Several different types of Stop Snitching T-shirts have been produced; some feature stop signs, the outline of a gun scope or a man pointing a handgun.
Kimani Mccay, 31, at the Westminster Mall on Wednesday while visiting from Detroit, said he supported the shirt's theme.
People snitch because prosecutors
"You should never cooperate with the cops," he said. "I'd rather wear a snitch shirt than a Fubu (brand) shirt."
His friend Devonte Jones, 22, from Montbello, agreed with the shirt's theme.
"It's the law of the land," he said. "Don't snitch."
But employees at Where the Buffalo Roam, a locally owned franchise that sells logo T-shirts in Boulder and Denver, said they'd never heard of the shirts, but wouldn't sell them anyway because of the theme.
T-shirt Etc., a store in Westminster Mall that prints logo shirts, stopped selling the shirts once the employees realized what the message meant, said employee Roger Norquist.
"We thought it wasn't ethical," Norquist, 21, said. Norquist said the shirt's popularity is increasing. "We're not going to make T-shirts that intimidate witnesses. That's messed up."
For five months, the Atlanta-based R. World Shirt Co. has produced a line of trademarked "Stop Snitch'n" shirts and has seen sales increase.
"If you witness a violent crime, by all means report it," he said. "We're speaking about people who didn't see crime and they give information to the police. It's a difference between a witness and a snitch. Snitch is a derogatory term. It's a rat. It's a filthy, dirty thing."
That's what prompted Smoky Hill High School student Christopher Johnson, 17, to buy his shirt, which features police mug shots of rap stars who have been arrested because of tips.
"It's a true statement," Johnson said about his shirt. "I hear rappers saying they are going to jail because they got snitched on."
Johnson was in Lowry Park on July 4, 2004, when Gregory Vann was killed. In that same shooting, Marshall-Fields was injured and became the key witness for the prosecution against Robert Keith Ray, who is now accused of pulling the trigger.
Johnson said he saw nothing that night, only heard the shots and ran. He doesn't blame Marshall-Fields for talking to the police in that case.
"That's really the right thing to do," he said Tuesday while in Aurora Mall, where two clothing stores sell the shirts. "But it's just a T-shirt."
Authorities say the shirts aren't the cause of the violence, but the message doesn't help them find witnesses to crimes.
"If (the shirt) is not about someone making a buck, it shows there is a bigger societal issue," said Aurora's interim police chief, Terry Jones. "Who is supposed to be running the place, the thugs or the people looking out for the betterment of society?"
In Baltimore, where the saying originated, police are fighting the message with free DVDs and T-shirts that say, "Keep Talkin."'
Marshall-Fields' sister, Maisha Pollard, recently passed out CrimeStoppers fliers in Aurora, seeking information about her brother's shooting.
She saw a man with a "Stop Snitching" shirt and gave him a flier.
"I said, 'This is my brother. He's not a snitch,"' she said. "I saw him crumple it up and throw it away."
Staff writer Daarel Burnette II contributed to this report.
Staff writer Jeremy Meyer can be reached at 303-820-1175 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
A Snitch in Time
Community leaders think pro-crime T-shirts send the wrong message.
by Kia Gregory
As co-chair of the local antiviolence group Men United for a Better Philadelphia, Qayyum was outraged. Each week the group holds rallies in neighborhoods battered by drugs and gun violence, and encourages frightened yet frustrated residents to put an end to it by naming names.
Qayyum sees the "STOP SNITCHIN" message as a smack in the face.
"We try to encourage people to give information to the police, and now you have these T-shirts that say the opposite," he says. "It's bad enough trying to get information in reference to shootings and homicides in the city, without promoting or encouraging citizens not to participate in solving crimes."
The store, Prime Sports, located on Chestnut Street, sells six versions of the "STOP SNITCHIN" T-shirt, including one that reads in big red letters: "DON'T TALK 2 POLICE."
The shirts are manufactured by Decatur, Ga.-based R. World Shirt Company, which did not return calls for this story.
The brand comes on the heels of the infamous Stop Snitching DVD that began circulating in Baltimore last year. In one scene a man threatens that anyone snitching on drug trades will "get a hole in his head."
With 278 murders last year, Baltimore is often labeled one of America's most dangerous cities. There have been more than 100 homicides in Philadelphia so far this year, outpacing last year's total of 330.
"Members of the Police Department are firm believers in freedom of speech," says Cpl. Jim Pauley about the shirts. "We would hope that witnesses and victims of crime would certainly talk to police for obvious reasons of ending crimes."
Qayyum says the "STOP SNITCHIN" T-shirts, which sell for $19.99, aggravate an already chronic problem of witness intimidation, and spread the street sentiment that "snitching" has deadly consequences.
The district attorney's office doesn't keep statistics on how many criminal cases are dropped because of witness intimidation, but in Philadelphia about 30 percent of murders go unsolved.
"When you watch the news," says DA spokesperson Cathie Abookire, "almost every day you see a mother or family member pleading for the public's help in solving a crime, and these types of T-shirts just foster lawlessness. It aids and comforts murderers and rapists, and the people that subscribe to this are totally complicit."
Prime Sports store manager James Durango disagrees.
"It's just a T-shirt," Durango says plainly. "It's about fashion-nothing else."
The hip-hop clothing store has been selling the "STOP SNITCHIN" T-shirts for just a few months, but Durango says they're his most popular item.
"We always sell out," says Rachel Zna, manager of the Prime Sports at 10th and Market streets. "I sell at least 10 a day."
Not if Qayyum can help it. Men United plans to meet with Prime Sports to address concerns that the "STOP SNITCHIN" shirts promote violent crime.
"Just last night we went in the community, encouraging people to give information to the police," says Qayyum, discussing the recent shooting death of 17-year-old Richard Johnson. "If we're in a war against crime, these shirts are promoting the enemy position."
Video This story reported by Courtney Monie. Bio email.
The hottest clothing trend often makes quite a fashion statement. A new t-shirt people are buying makes what some are calling a dangerous statement.
Shirts that say "stop snitching" are becoming popular. The stop snitching shirt caught on in Philadelphia and Baltimore, now it's been spotted in Harrisburg. At the same time, prosecutors and police are trying to encourage people to report crimes. They say the shirt sends the wrong message.
The latest in novelty t-shirts. But instead of cracking smiles, many are more worried about cracking cases. This bold warning may be part of an urban push to not report crimes. And the slogan is popping up here.
Ed Marsico, Dauphin Co. District Attorney: “A prosecutor is my office saw one of those shirts while getting his license renewed at PennDOT here in Harrisburg.”
The Dauphin County District Attorney relies on the public stepping forward. “The victims, witnesses are paramount to our job as prosecutors without them, we don't have a case.”
Marsico worries the stop snitching shirts may intimidate those people. “I think it sends a bad message, the message we want to send to the public is work with us.”
Especially now as Dauphin County unveils a new campaign to educate people on the help available to victims and witnesses.
Jennifer Storm of the Victim Witness Assistant Program:“When they know there's somebody there that cares, that's gonna walk them through the system, I think they're going to be more willing to cooperate.”
Marsico:“We have too many people dying and getting hurt on the streets and if we can't solve these crimes, that's gonna hurt as more than it already does.”
Some of the stores selling the shirt say it's just a novelty, some of the people buying the shirt say "stop snitching" is just a figure of speech.
http://www.kplctv.com/Global/story.asp?S=3760645 NEW YORK, Aug. 24 /PRNewswire/ -- As the popularity of an irresponsible and dangerous new T-shirt message -- that speaking up about crime is improper -- spreads across the country, PAX / Real Solutions to Gun Violence is taking a public stand against the shirt's potentially lethal message.
The hot-selling "no snitching" T-shirts carry warnings such as "don't talk to police" and "death before dishonor.”
In street slang, snitching is informing on others — being a tattletale, fink, rat, squealer or stoolie — and has always had negative connotations among mobsters and thieves, with severe punishment possible.
Police and law-abiding citizens, including crime victims and their families, are understandably upset over the shirts.
If witnesses and informants don't speak up, criminals don't get caught and more people could be robbed, hurt or killed.
"You just have to think of it in terms of the tradeoff and realize that, you know, yes, maybe somebody will get in trouble, but the other side of it is you really could be a hero and save lives," said Dan Gross of PAX (search).
His brother was shot in the head on the observation deck of the Empire State Building (search) eight years ago and is permanently disabled. Gross is encouraging youngsters to speak up, not shut up, and has made his own shirt with a toll-free hotline, 866-SPEAK-UP, in hopes of countering the anti-snitching craze.
One store manager said most buyers are young "wanna-be" thug types and the guys we spoke with on the street seemed to agree with the shirts' message, and at least one manufacturer has stopped making the shirts after receiving complaints, and some stores won't carry them anymore.
But shirt sellers and some buyers said the clothing shouldn't be taken so seriously and that it's more of a fad or fashion statement.
Click on the box near the top of this story to watch a FOX News report.
August 5, 2005 - There is a t-shirt sold in Philadelphia and urban areas that’s making families of victims of violence outraged. They say it’s sending a dangerous message to possible witnesses to crime. Ray Jones/”Men United for a Better Philadelphia:” “Children are dying on these streets. This is serious. It’s not just about a t-Shirt, it’s a way of life.”
Members of the group “Men United for a Better Philadelphia” say they’re outraged at a t-shirt that says “Stop Snitching.” They say it’s meant to discourage witnesses of violent crimes from speaking with police and promotes a negative so called “Street Code” of silence.
Bilal Qayyum/”Men United for a Better Philadelphia”: “We need people to snitch on where Latoyia Figueroa’s body is. We need people to snitch on who was driving that car that killed a young Peters child in East Oak Lane.”
Dicia Gilmore lost her 25-year-old son when he was shot and killed in Logan. She says she’s repulsed by the shirt’s message.
Dicia Gilmore/Logan: “It hurts. It really, really hurts, because my son’s children will no longer be able to see their father because someone right now will not tell on the young man that killed my son.”
Part of the problem is that drug dealers are being accepted into the black community with increasing normalcy. In December of 2004 NBA Superstar rookie , Carmelo Anthony was reprimanded for appearing in the video with drug dealers telling people to stop snitching.
The groups which include “Mothers in Charge” say they plan on boycotting any stores and vendors that sell the shirt. In fact, they held a press conference in front of “Prime Sports” in Center City. The store sold the shirt but has now promised to take it off the racks.
Elliott Gabay/Attorney for “Prime Sports”: “It is absolutely store policy to remove them and I think we need to work together as a community to better the community and reduce violence in the community.”
The vendor wouldn’t speak on camera but said the shirt was merely a novelty. Some people we spoke with say the shirt is in bad taste but businesses should be able to sell them.
Boris Vaynslat/Fairmount: “It is a t-shirt. I mean, at the end of the day, all it is a shirt on somebody’s body. A t-shirt is not gonna sway a person one way or the other.”
But police say it is a dangerous message. They say too many people in neighborhoods plagued with violence are already too intimidated to come forward with information that may just help solve a crime.
Ronald Porter/North Philadelphia: “I know I wouldn’t tell. I wouldn’t say anything.”
“You wouldn’t go to police with information you have?”
“No.” Sources used for this report- WPVI-TV in Philadelphia and The Denver Channel.com
Related Links -Stop Snitching Camera Man snitches on him self arrested with 198 bags of heroin. Stop Snitching a Black reporter from Baltimore looks closer.
Activists call on residents to ’start snitching’ PHILADELPHIA – Theodore Canada knows there is someone out there with information on who murdered his 18-year-old son, Lamar. And it galls him that a popular T-shirt – the one with the words “Stop Snitching” – might prevent police from ever catching the shooter. “They gunned my son down like he was nothing,” Canada said. “My family needs closure.” Canada was one of several community activists Friday who called for local stores to stop selling the shirts – and for city residents to “start snitching” in order to get criminals off the streets. “Just talk. Run your mouth. Give up the information,” said Bilal Qayyum, co-chairman of Men United for a Better Philadelphia. The phrase “Stop Snitching,” implying that witnesses should keep silent about crime or face the consequences, gained national attention last year after underground DVDs with that title surfaced in Baltimore. In one scene, NBA star Carmelo Anthony laughs alongside a man who warns that people who tip police about drug deals will “get a hole in their head.” Anthony later said he was an unwitting participant and renounced the anti-snitching message. But the slogan proved lucrative, appearing in various designs on T-shirts and hats around the country. Last year in Boston, the “Stop Snitching” shirts caused a stir when friends of a suspected gang member wore them to his murder trial. And just two weeks ago, also in Boston, a teenager made news for wearing the shirt to his job at a City Hall day care center. “It was a real good seller for me,” said Edward Baranek, a buyer for Prime Sports clothing store in downtown Philadelphia. Baranek, though, said he pulled the merchandise – about $10,000 worth – more than three weeks ago after local media began asking about it. The shop was still targeted Friday by members of the anti-violence groups Men United for a Better Philadelphia and Mothers in Charge. At a news conference, they called on two other Prime Sports locations and vendors across the city to stop selling the items or risk a boycott. The groups also implored the public to come forward with information about several recent unsolved cases, including the July 10 shooting of Lamar Canada, the recent disappearance of pregnant mother LaToyia Figueroa and the hit-and-run death of teenager Kayla Peter in June. But two blocks away, street vendor Abdul Bilal continued to display the shirts. He described himself as a businessman who supports “moral excellence” and is only trying to feed his family. The clothes, said Bilal, are “just a novelty.” Philadelphia District Attorney Lynne Abraham said the code of silence encouraged by the “Stop Snitching” slogan is “disgusting and disgraceful.”
Activists call on residents to ’start snitching’
PHILADELPHIA – Theodore Canada knows there is someone out there with information on who murdered his 18-year-old son, Lamar.
And it galls him that a popular T-shirt – the one with the words “Stop Snitching” – might prevent police from ever catching the shooter.
“They gunned my son down like he was nothing,” Canada said. “My family needs closure.”
Canada was one of several community activists Friday who called for local stores to stop selling the shirts – and for city residents to “start snitching” in order to get criminals off the streets.
“Just talk. Run your mouth. Give up the information,” said Bilal Qayyum, co-chairman of Men United for a Better Philadelphia.
The phrase “Stop Snitching,” implying that witnesses should keep silent about crime or face the consequences, gained national attention last year after underground DVDs with that title surfaced in Baltimore.
In one scene, NBA star Carmelo Anthony laughs alongside a man who warns that people who tip police about drug deals will “get a hole in their head.” Anthony later said he was an unwitting participant and renounced the anti-snitching message.
But the slogan proved lucrative, appearing in various designs on T-shirts and hats around the country.
Last year in Boston, the “Stop Snitching” shirts caused a stir when friends of a suspected gang member wore them to his murder trial. And just two weeks ago, also in Boston, a teenager made news for wearing the shirt to his job at a City Hall day care center.
“It was a real good seller for me,” said Edward Baranek, a buyer for Prime Sports clothing store in downtown Philadelphia.
Baranek, though, said he pulled the merchandise – about $10,000 worth – more than three weeks ago after local media began asking about it.
The shop was still targeted Friday by members of the anti-violence groups Men United for a Better Philadelphia and Mothers in Charge. At a news conference, they called on two other Prime Sports locations and vendors across the city to stop selling the items or risk a boycott.
The groups also implored the public to come forward with information about several recent unsolved cases, including the July 10 shooting of Lamar Canada, the recent disappearance of pregnant mother LaToyia Figueroa and the hit-and-run death of teenager Kayla Peter in June.
But two blocks away, street vendor Abdul Bilal continued to display the shirts. He described himself as a businessman who supports “moral excellence” and is only trying to feed his family.
The clothes, said Bilal, are “just a novelty.”
Philadelphia District Attorney Lynne Abraham said the code of silence encouraged by the “Stop Snitching” slogan is “disgusting and disgraceful.”
It's one of Philadelphia's hottest - and most controversial - fashion statements: T-shirts and hats that say, "Stop Snitching."
Those who wear and sell the shirts say it's part of a style, a fad, the "in" look - as Jay-Z's oversize striped, button-down shirts were a few months back.
But these shirts are far more sinister, with some picturing guns, crosshairs, and messages that advise, "Don't Talk 2 Police."
The implicit threat is particularly disturbing, given that witness intimidation has been cited by police and prosecutors as a major problem in the city.
Investigations into crimes as heinous as last year's schoolyard slaying of 10-year-old Faheem Thomas-Childs have been hindered, police say, because witnesses have been afraid to step forward.
Dorothy Speight Johnson, for one, has been left speechless by the apparel - because, she says, a so-called snitch could have saved her son's life.
Khaaliq Jabbar Johnson, 24, was shot seven times in December 2001. After the gunman was arrested, he was charged with another slaying the previous July.
"Had someone said something or given information earlier, my son would still be alive today," said Johnson, founder and executive director of Mothers in Charge, an antiviolence organization.
Sellers and wearers insist that the shirts should not be taken that seriously. It's a cross-cultural trend, they say.
"They sell fast. It's mostly young people, but people you wouldn't even expect to buy 'Stop Snitching' - guys with suits and ties - come in," said Kris Hardy, assistant manager of the Lids store in the Gallery at Market East mall. "As soon as we get them, they go right back out."
Asked whether he thought the shirts could contribute to lawlessness, Hardy shrugged: "Nobody likes a snitch."
Those who fight crime and violence say the message given by the apparel is inexcusable.
"It's a moral issue. Where does society draw the line of what's right and what's wrong?" asked Bilal Qayyum, cochairman of Men United for a Better Philadelphia. "Selling T-shirts to promote an issue that's wrong is wrong. Why don't you sell crack cocaine or guns? It's the same thing. You're destroying the neighborhood."
Last week, Qayyum, Johnson and others showed their unhappiness with the sales of "Stop Snitching" items by protesting outside the Prime Sports store at Broad and Chestnut Streets. Although the store's buyer, Ed Baranek, said the three-store chain had stopped selling the merchandise three weeks ago, reporters found it for sale at two of Prime Sports' Center City locations as late as last Sunday.
In both cases, store employees hurriedly removed the apparel from view.
Baranek said the chain decided to pull the popular shirts in answer to the complaints from people such as Qayyum, noting that Prime Sports is "a community-based store."
Now, he said, he is "sitting on $12,000 worth of merchandise."
Children are taught that no one likes a tattletale.
But maybe that's wrong, said Patricia C. Jessamy, the state's attorney in Baltimore. She noted that a playground bully could easily grow into a street intimidator.
"We need to send a message early on, when people do bad things, [that] it's right to tell," Jessamy said.
Baltimore, said city police spokesman Matt Jablow, "has the dubious distinction of being the birthplace of the whole 'Stop Snitching' movement."
About a year ago, a DVD of the same name appeared for sale on that city's sidewalks and drew national attention because it included an appearance by Carmelo Anthony of the NBA's Denver Nuggets.
The two-hour DVD sold for $10 and featured a stream of rants against people who cooperated with police. The speakers - seen in bars and bedrooms and on the streets - flashed guns and jewelry, threatened individuals and their families, and used what appeared to be illegal drugs and alcohol while making one point: Snitches get stitches, and that's if they're lucky.
Baltimore police and prosecutors said the DVD actually helped them. Jessamy used it to show the Maryland General Assembly that witness intimidation was a serious problem. Police used it as a tip sheet, later arresting three of the DVD's narrators in previous crimes.
In May, the department put out its own disc, Keep Talking, which boasts of the recent arrests. Officers have given away 1,000 copies and plan to make a follow-up. Some street officers also are wearing T-shirts of their own that say, "Keep talking."
"You can't let it go unanswered. You have got to meet them on any battlefield: T-shirts, DVDs," Jablow said. "You've got to show them you're everywhere."
But soon the shirts and hats - even jogging suits - were everywhere, including Philadelphia. They are on sale in front of City Hall, up in Cheltenham, over in West Philadelphia.
Now printed by numerous companies, the message packaged in different ways - "Stop Snitching" or "Stop Snitch'n' " or "Stop Snitchin.' " There are numerous spin-offs on the theme: "Respect the Gangster" and "Crime Pays" and "Get Money."
Some of the vendors who say they are not doing anything wrong act differently when asked about it.
One man who was selling the shirts in front of the Clothespin statue pulled his display apart when a photographer tried to take pictures of his wares. He waved his arms to block the camera's lens while shouting that he was just a businessman.
Officials of one manufacturer, Atlanta-based R. World Shirt Co., were in Philadelphia yesterday to meet with Qayyum. They agreed to replace the "Stop Snitch'n' " shirts at some area stores with new ones that read, "Stop Hating."
"R. World doesn't promote violence," said the company's chief executive officer, Ibrahim Rabbani, 23, who said that his own brother was shot and killed in an Atlanta street robbery in 1998 but that no one was ever arrested.
What the company does, Rabbani said, is "shine some light" on the realities of inner-city violence, noting, "You can't get mad at the messenger."
Qayyum said that he was pleased with the progress of the group's protest, and that it now wanted to put pressure on other stores and manufacturers still marketing the fashion.
"Parents," he said, "need to be talking to their kids who think this is the hip T-shirt this year."
District Attorney Lynne M. Abraham sees nothing redeeming about the new fashion.
"It feeds into the witness-intimidation fear that so many people in the country feel. 'Don't get involved. Turn a blind eye. Don't help anyone.' It's the absolute opposite of what good moral teaching tells us," Abraham said.
The Thomas-Childs case is clearly one in which frightened witnesses are hampering the pursuit of justice. Faheem was caught in the crossfire on Feb. 11, 2004, as groups of men shot at each other outside his North Philadelphia school.
Two men were arrested. As many as five others may have been involved. No one has volunteered any names, although the shooting occurred on a busy corner about 8:30 a.m. on a school day.
"You can't tell me they don't know who did it. Everybody knows who did it," Abraham said. "I can tell you the message on the streets is, 'Don't come forward.'"
Inspector Bill Colarulo, the Philadelphia police spokesman, said he opposed anything that hindered communication between the police and the community.
"Why anybody would not want to give police information regarding somebody who kills children, for example, is beyond me," Colarulo said.
But there's not much that law enforcement can do about the shirts, the hats or the DVDs. Sellers and wearers have a First Amendment right to free speech.
"We're confident the vast majority of the public will see these for that they really are: a cheap ploy by some people to gain attention," Colarulo said.
And even if the look doesn't fade fast, officials should be comforted by the fact that, for some people, these really are just shirts with words.
Christopher Turner, 21, has a "Stop Snitching" spinoff: "Criminal Minded." The West Oak Lane resident works with people who have mental handicaps, and has never been arrested.
"It's looking tough, acting tough," Turner said. "People see 'Criminal Minded' and think I'm tough. It's a front."
He bought the shirt, he said, to match a pair of sneakers.
Security and Crime News - Return to news menu
'Stop Snitchin' shirts have people talking for different reasons in city
By Tanika White Sun Staff April 30, 2005 - In shopping malls around the city, young people are buying T-shirts with statements that would make any parent, police officer or community leader cringe: "Criminal minded." "Let's get blown." "Ready to Die."
But one in particular has some city officials particularly stunned: A T-shirt that warns boldly across the front, "Stop Snitchin."
Coming on the heels of the Stop Snitching DVD that began circulating in Baltimore last year, the T-shirts are disheartening to those who say they aggravate an already chronic problem of witness intimidation. While shops that sell the shirts say the tees are not connected to the DVD, city officials say the message remains the same - and it's a damaging one.
"It's incredible that anyone, particularly a business owner in Baltimore City, would try to make a buck off this while our police officers are on the streets every day working to make our city safer," said Raquel Guillory, a spokeswoman for Mayor Martin O'Malley. "We need everyone to join us in this effort and not work against us."
Baltimore prosecutors have said that witness intimidation hampers their efforts to convict criminals - about one-quarter of last year's gun cases, for example, were dropped because direct or perceived threats created problems with testimony. State's Attorney Patricia C. Jessamy pushed, with Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., for legislation last session to crack down on witness intimidation but had to settle for what she called a "toothless" law.
The popularity of the Stop Snitching DVD and now the emergence of the T-shirts, though, suggest it will take more than legislation to change the pervasive street sentiment that "snitching" on suspected criminals is wrong and could, at least in some cases, draw retribution.
"It's very disappointing," said police spokesman Matt Jablow, when told of the shirts, which he had not seen.
But those who buy such T-shirts - and those who make or sell them - say the shirts are just fashion.
"I don't take it to heart," said Larry Smith, of Essex, who recently bought a "Stop Snitchin" T-shirt from Changes, a jeans and urban wear store in Eastpoint Mall. "I just like the shirt. It's just a figure of speech."
The shirts, some of which simply say "Stop Snitchin," and others that are more graphically embellished with shotgun targets or other images, sell for about $19 to $28.
Changes officials said the shirts - one of a variety of urban T-shirts depicting rap lyrics, hip-hop artists or definitions of common street sayings - have been extremely popular. Changes Enterprises - which owns nine Changes stores throughout the region - had ordered hundreds of "Stop Snitchin" T-shirts and hats. Antonio Gray, a buyer for the chain, said the stores are nearly sold out of them.
Smith, 28, found it laughable that some might consider his wearing a "Stop Snitchin" T-shirt tantamount to witness intimidation. After all, he doesn't have anyone to warn about keeping their mouths shut, he said.
"I work at a rental car company," Smith said.
"This shirt ain't about the Dawsons and all that," he said as he left the mall with his new T-shirt in a bag.
One vocal resident who called police about suspicious activities, Angela Maria Dawson, was killed along with six of her family members when a suspected drug dealer firebombed her East Baltimore rowhouse in 2002.
Similarly, in January, a Harwood community leader, Edna McAbier, who had complained about drug trafficking in her neighborhood, saw her home firebombed by suspected gang members.
One T-shirt maker, Reginald Diggs, owner of Prince George's County-based Citywide Promotions, which makes one version of the "Stop Snitchin" T-shirts sold in area malls, said the message of his shirt is meant to encourage young people to stay away from crime.
He had never even heard of the Stop Snitching DVD, Diggs said.
Diggs' shirt, produced under the label Introspect Graphics - reads this way, in part: Stop Snitchin'. You can be convicted of drug charges on the sole testimony of a snitch with no physical evidence. The average snitch got their sentence reduced by almost 50% or more for telling on others ...
"The point of that shirt is when you are living that life, when you are out in the streets, eventually it's going to catch up to you, and it may not even be a scenario where you yourself did something," Diggs said. "It seems like the court system revolves around the testimony of snitches, not physical evidence. So you could have turned your life around, given your life to Christ, and that old life can still come back to haunt you."
A fashion lesson
Diggs said his shirts send messages that young, black men can understand - using their language, in their own style.
"We like to do things to educate people," Diggs said. "But the fact is, a lot of times, people don't read. Even though the shirt may have a really powerful message, the message isn't what gets the people to buy the shirt, it's the graphic. And if we're beating people over the heads with something like, 'Being in the drug game is wrong,' then no one's going to see our graphic or our message."
Gray said in an e-mail that, by selling the T-shirts, Changes is only providing the latest in popular apparel, whether it involves music, movies or street lingo.
"Changes simply provides our customers with the fashion they request to remain competitive in our market," Gray said. "Changes specializes in fashion and does not encourage or support any behavior associated with any of these images. We trust our customers to make responsible fashion decisions true to their personal lifestyle and taste."
The T-shirts have been spotted elsewhere, too: Last fall in Suffolk, Mass., two suspected gang members wearing "Stop Snitchin" T-shirts were escorted from a courtroom when they showed up at a murder trial.
Snitching - and the antipathy toward it - is about as old as crime itself. Cooperating with authorities is one of the only ways to reduce a prison term under tough federal sentencing laws. From old black-and-white shoot-em-ups to the 1970s' The Godfather to the 1980s' Scarface and countless other gangster films, though, snitches have come to untimely ends.
Los Angeles sociologist BJ Gallagher said young people have always looked to push the societal "acceptability" envelope by wearing outrageous fashions.
"These days it's fashionable to be pro-violence, anti-cop, street-smart and savvy. Just listen to the hip-hop and rap music that the kids are listening to," said Gallagher, author of a new book, Who Are 'They' Anyway? "They reject the values of their parents and society at large, just as their parents did, and their parents before them. ...
"What's disconcerting is that each generation has to push the limits further to get the shock value they need to say, 'I'm autonomous, and you can't tell me what to do.' Their music and fashion has to get more extreme to top the generation that went before," Gallagher said.
City Council President Sheila Dixon said that may be true in some cases. But "Stop Snitchin" may be taking shock value too far.
"People have their constitutional rights to put whatever on T-shirts, but we need to really monitor what we're trying to sell to young people," Dixon said. "It's fine to sell T-shirts, but we need to be on the positive note, particularly in getting our young people to understand what's going on in our communities.
A quick victory seemingly was scored by Philadelphia anti-violence activists yesterday when their protest in front of a Center City sportswear store led the attorney for the chain to emerge and promise to stop selling the controversial "Stop Snitching" T-shirts.
With those words emblazoned across the front, the T-shirts have become hot sellers this year from Washington to Boston, particularly among inner-city minority teens and young adults.
City officials and activists believe the T-shirts are a form of witness intimidation: a warning to think otherwise about talking with the police about the murderers, drug dealers and other criminals in their communities.
"We feel it's an outrage that that kind of T-shirt would be sold in the city of Philadelphia when we... are working to stop violence," said Bilal Abdul Qayyum, co-chairman of Men United for a Better Philadelphia.
Men United was joined by representatives from Mothers in Charge, state Sen. Anthony Hardy Williams and other activists who clustered near the door of Prime Sports on Chestnut Street near Broad.
Ray Jones, also a co-chairman of Men United, exploded in anger after a meeting between protest organizers and store officials. He said the officials had denied selling the shirts.
"They're going to try to tell me that they are not selling them, when we know they are. They tried to insult my intelligence, and I'm not having it. You've got people buying into the destruction of my people, and I'm not going to have it."
Moments later, store attorney Eli Gabay, of the firm Solomon, Sherman and Gabay, stepped outside the front door and said the three-store chain would no longer sell the shirts.
"Although we believe in the First Amendment rights to free speech, we understand the issues involved," he said.
He added that the company decided before yesterday to stop selling the shirts and that if any were sold recently, it was a mistake.
At the protest, a man who was still shaken by the unsolved murder of his 18-year-old son, told the gathering, "The pain that I'm suffering now, I don't wish it on my worst enemy... We need everybody to start snitching, not stop snitching."
Prime Sports employees said owner Momi Nechemia, an Israeli immigrant, was not available to talk with reporters. Two other Prime Sports stores are nearby, according to Qayyum, on 11th Street and near 10th and Market streets.
Philadelphia District Attorney Lynne Abraham did not attend the demonstration, but she said afterward that she saw a "Stop Snitching" T-shirt yesterday. The young man wearing it was going into a rehabilitation hospital that is known for treating gunshot victims, she said.
"I'm saying to myself, 'What is this young man thinking?' When I saw it I was heartbroken and crestfallen that he would be wearing a shirt that is so stupid."
Abraham said she believes that the shirts, while legal, are a form of witness intimidation and stores should stop selling them.
"To call it snitching when you are a witness to crime is pretty outrageous," she said. "It's so terrible that merchants think it is OK to put anything out on the market place that will sell... that is offensive to me."
Qayyum called on the public to boycott any store that carries the shirts, and he advocated a "snitching day" on criminals. "Just talk, run your mouth, if you know anything about crime or violence that is taking place," he said.
"We need to work together as a community to get those people off of the streets who are committing these crimes. Who are taking lives and causing devastation and pain and grief to families," said Dorothy Johnson-Speight, found-er of Mothers in Charge, whose members have had children slain.
Her son, Khaaliq Jabbar, 24, was murdered over a parking spot on Dec. 6, 2001.
People snitch because prosecutors
Johnson said he saw nothing that night, only heard the shots and ran. He doesn't blame Marshall-Fields for talking to the police in that case.
"I said, 'This is my brother. He's not a snitch,"' she said. "I saw him crumple it up and throw it away."
Staff writer Jeremy Meyer can be reached at 303-820-1175 or email@example.com.
They have a website now:
A wikipedia page
Anti-snitch campaign riles police, prosecutors
Worse, he was a witness ¡ª her witness ¡ª and the intended victim in an attempted murder case that had brought him, her and the defendants to court that day last fall.
This was Rayco "War" Saunders ¡ª ex-con, pro boxer and walking billboard for a street movement that has sparked a coast-to-coast beef involving everyone from professors to rappers.
Pellegrini, thinking "witness intimidation," told Saunders to lose the hat and reverse the shirt. Saunders, crying "First Amendment," refused. He left the courthouse, shirt in place. Case dismissed. "In almost every one of my homicides, this happens: 'I don't know nothin' about nothin', " the prosecutor says. "There is that attitude, 'Don't be a snitch.' And it's condoned by the community."
Omerta, the Mafia's blood oath of silence, has been broken by turncoat after turncoat. But the call to stop snitching ¡ª on other folks in the 'hood ¡ª is getting louder.
Is it an attempt by drug dealers and gangsters to intimidate witnesses?
Is it a legitimate protest against law enforcers' over-reliance on self-serving criminal informers?
Or is it bigger than that?
Take the case of Busta Rhymes.
The hip-hop star has refused to cooperate with police investigating the slaying of his bodyguard Feb. 5 outside a Brooklyn studio where Rhymes was recording a video with performers such as Missy Elliott and Mary J. Blige. Police say that although Rhymes and as many as 50 others may have seen the shooting, no one came forward ¡ª an echo of the silence that followed the unsolved murders of rappers Tupac Shakur, the Notorious B.I.G. and Run-DMC's Jam Master Jay.
It's the code of the street: To be a credible rapper, you have to know when to shut up.
"Under pressure, I lie for ya, die for ya," Lil' Kim once rapped. Now she's in a federal jail in Philadelphia for failing to tell a grand jury what she knew about some friends involved in a shooting.
Rhymes' silence in the death of Israel Ramirez seemed to puzzle New York's seen-it-all police commissioner, Ray Kelly, an ex-Marine, career NYPD cop and U.S. Customs chief. "Your employee is murdered in front of you," he told reporters, so "you'd think he might want to talk to the police."
Not necessarily, says David Kennedy, director of the Center for Crime Prevention and Control at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York. "There's such animosity toward the police in some urban communities that even people who aren't afraid, and who hate crime, still feel cooperating is something good people don't do," Kennedy says. "That's the Busta Rhymes story. He has nothing to fear. He just doesn't want to talk. His reputation would take a dive if he did."
The code of silence, he says, "is breaking out in a way we've never seen before."
Saunders agrees: "It's a movement, that's what it is ¡ª a stop snitching movement."
From street code to slogan
The stigma against snitching is an old one, but the Mafia never took out newspaper ads to promote omerta. So why is an unwritten rule printed on thousands of T-shirts?
Start with the war on drugs. Over the past two decades, law enforcers have made more drug arrests and turned more defendants into informers than ever before. According to the U.S. Sentencing Commission, the agency that establishes federal court sentencing practices, about one-third of drug trafficking prosecutions involve informers' "substantial assistance." That makes them eligible for reduced sentences under otherwise inflexible federal sentencing guidelines.
Informers are a necessary evil, says Cmdr. Maurita Bryant, a 29-year veteran of the Pittsburgh Police Department. "We have to deal with who we have to deal with. ... If a dealer needs to make a deal, he'll tell on his mother. It may not be right, but it's all we have."
Some criminal informers who are allowed to remain free commit more crimes; some return to crime after a shortened prison sentence; some frame others, or tell prosecutors what they want to hear. Boston defense lawyer Harvey Silverglate says the system encourages defendants "not only to sing, but to compose."
According to a study by the Northwestern University Law School's Center on Wrongful Convictions, 51 of the 111 wrongful death penalty convictions since the 1970s were based in whole or in part on the testimony of witnesses who had an incentive to lie.
Alexandra Natapoff, a professor at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles, says that, based on federal statistics, one of every four black men from 20 to 29 is behind bars, on probation or on parole, and under pressure to snitch. She estimates one in 12 of all black men in the highest-crime neighborhoods are snitching.
She says informers strain the social fabric of poor minority neighborhoods, where as many as half the young men have been arrested. "Every family gathering, every party, every backyard barbecue probably has someone who's secretly working as an informer."
This is the world Rayco Saunders inhabits. It's filled, as he puts it, with "guys doin' all this crime and not doin' no time, because they're telling on the next man."
Hence a backlash ¡ª "stop snitching." The slogan appeared in Baltimore about two years ago as the title of an underground DVD featuring threatening, gun-wielding drug dealers and a brief appearance by NBA star and Baltimore native Carmelo Anthony. Anthony, who later said he didn't know the video's theme, told ESPN The Magazine that the dealer-turned-informer excoriated in the DVD "ran our neighborhood. Now he's working with the state and the feds. You can't do that. He turned his back on the 'hood."
The black community is divided. Rapper Chuck D of Public Enemy has blasted the Stop Snitching campaign on the hip-hop group's website: "The term 'snitch' was best applied to those that ratted revolutionaries like Huey P. Newton, Bobby Seale, Che Guevara. ... Let's not let stupid cats use hip-hop to again twist this meaning for the sake of some 'innerganghood' violent drug thug crime dogs, who've sacrificed the black community's women and children."
Movement prompts legal backlash
Whatever its intent, the Stop Snitching movement has galvanized officials already apoplectic about witness reluctance and witness intimidation.
States and localities spend a fraction of what the federal government devotes to witness protection, although this month Pennsylvania restored $1 million for that purpose. The move came as more than a half-dozen witnesses recanted earlier testimony in the trial of men accused in the Philadelphia street shooting death of a third-grade boy.
"If the word 'snitch' comes out of someone's mouth, I go insane," says Pellegrini, the Pittsburgh prosecutor. "When young men and women see rappers refuse (to cooperate), they think it's cool. How do we tell them, 'we'll support you,' when they see that?"
Especially, she says, when the slogan is blatantly used to intimidate witnesses. Last year, supporters of an accused drug dealer on trial in Pittsburgh federal court wore T-shirts around town bearing witnesses' photos and the inscription "Stop Snitching. " U.S. Attorney Mary Beth Buchanan says one, Garry Smith, had a $100,000 price on his head.
"Everybody in law enforcement is beside themselves," says Kennedy of John Jay College. "They can't investigate cases. They can't prosecute cases. The clearance rate for some serious crimes is tanking."
Stop Snitching T-shirts have been banned from a number of courthouses. Boston Mayor Thomas Menino, whose city recorded the most homicides in a decade last year, threatened to send police into stores to pull them off the shelves.
Following the furor over the Stop Snitchin' DVD, Maryland raised witness intimidation from a misdemeanor to a felony, and Baltimore police made a tape of their own, Keep Talking. "People have to snitch," says Peter Moskos, a former Baltimore street cop. "That's how criminals get caught."
Saunders' life may have been saved by a snitch.
Pellegrini says an informer told police that an ex-con had hired another man to kill Saunders because the boxer was having an affair with his girlfriend. The man and his accomplices were arrested before the hit could be carried out. They were scheduled for a court hearing the day last fall that Saunders showed up in his Stop Snitching T-shirt.
Saunders and Pellegrini agree he was there to warn the men not to testify in other pending cases. But they disagree on why: Pellegrini says Saunders, whom she calls a "thug," is in cahoots with other criminals who feared the men's testimony. Saunders says he thought the defendants would try to save themselves by selling out others.
Saunders says he hates snitching so much that he not only wears the T-shirts himself but has given them as gifts to friends and relatives. "They love the T- shirts," he says. "It's way overdue for somebody to step up and speak about these things that's going on with these informants and these guys walking around here with immunity to do whatever they want to do."
At 31, Saunders has had a hard life. He says he never knew his father; his mother died of a drug overdose when he was 11. He was stabbed in the back at 15, shot in the chest at 21. He says he shot at people himself and dealt drugs. He was arrested six times from 1994 to 1997 and served four years in prison after a shootout with a police officer. He says he was framed.
Since leaving prison, he has pursued a career as a pro boxer, compiling a record of 15-7-2. In 2004 he won the North American Boxing Council cruiserweight championship. In an interview at the gym where he trains, he outlines a stop-snitching creed:
6¦1 Don't snitch on others just to save yourself. "Stop snitching is for those guys out there ... selling more drugs than Noriega, and their only out is to tell on somebody. ... If a (criminal) wants to be a Good Samaritan, OK. But send (him) to jail. Don't give him immunity to do what he wants on the street."
6¦1 Stop Snitching doesn't mean stop talking to police. "It's always misconstrued by the public, or the powers that be, that we're trying to intimidate the regular people or the law-abiding citizens. That's not what it's about. ... If that is your only outlet, to call the police, that's what you do."
6¦1 But witnesses have no obligation to help police. "Do your job ¡ª you're the police. ... I've been wronged by the system. Do you think I would help the system? ... Do cops snitch on other cops?"
6¦1 The authorities can't protect witnesses. "What's happening to the innocent witness? They get dead or ... terrorized for life."
6¦1 Sometimes you must right wrongs yourself. "I'm a man, and I can handle my own situations like a man. ... I've done dirt. I'll admit that. So I can't run to the police."
Later, he's out on the street, wearing one of the T-shirts. Standing nearby is a woman dressed as the Statue of Liberty to advertise the services of her employer, Liberty Income Tax.
"The people who are snitching, a lot of them end up dead, a lot of them end up hurt," says Lady Liberty ¡ª Ernestine Whitaker of Wilkinsburg, whose nephew was threatened after he witnessed a crime. "So the snitching doesn't do anything for the person who's snitching."
She looks at Saunders, whose muscular chest bulges beneath the T. "I'd wear one of those," she says.
From Baltimore to Boston to New York; in Pittsburgh, Denver, and Milwaukee, kids are sporting the ominous fashion statement, prompting local fear, outrage, and fierce arguments over crime. Several trials have been disrupted by the T-shirts; some witnesses refuse to testify. Boston's Mayor Thomas M. Menino has declared a ban: "We're going into every retail store that sells them," he declared to the Boston Globe, "and we're going to take them off the shelves." With cameo appearances in the growing controversy by NBA star Carmelo Anthony of the Denver Nuggets and the rapper Lil Kim, snitching is making urban culture headlines.
The "Stop Snitchin' " T-shirt drama looks, at first blush, like a dustup over a simple counterculture message launched by some urban criminal entrepreneurs: that friends don't snitch on friends. But it is, in fact, a symptom of a more insidious reality that has largely escaped public notice: For the last 20 years, state and federal governments have been creating criminal snitches and setting them loose in poor, high-crime communities. The backlash against snitches embodies a growing national recognition that snitching is dangerous public policy¡ªproducing bad information, endangering innocent people, letting dangerous criminals off the hook, compromising the integrity of police work, and inciting violence and distrust in socially vulnerable neighborhoods.
The heart of the snitching problem lies in the secret deals that police and prosecutors make with criminals. In investigating drug offenses, police and prosecutors rely heavily¡ªand sometimes exclusively¡ªon criminals willing to trade information about other criminals in exchange for leniency. Many snitches avoid arrest altogether, thus continuing to use and deal drugs and commit other crimes in their neighborhoods, while providing information to the police. As drug dockets swell and police and prosecutors become increasingly dependent on snitches, high-crime communities are filling up with these active criminals who will turn in friends, family, and neighbors in order to "work off" their own crimes.
Critics of the T-shirts tend to dismiss the "stop snitching" sentiment as pro-criminal and antisocial; a subcultural expression of misplaced loyalty. But the T-shirts should be heeded as evidence of a failed public policy. Snitching is an entrenched law-enforcement practice that has become pervasive due to its crucial role in the war on drugs. This practice is favored not only by police and prosecutors, but by legislatures: Mandatory minimum sentences and restrictions on judges make snitching one of the only means for defendants to negotiate in the face of rigid and drastic sentences. But the policy has turned out to be a double-edged sword. Nearly every drug offense involves a snitch, and snitching is increasingly displacing more traditional police work, such as undercover operations and independent investigation.
According to some agents and prosecutors, snitching is also slowly crippling law enforcement: "[I]nformers are running today's drug investigations, not the agents," says veteran DEA agent Celerino Castillo. "Agents have become so dependent on informers that the agents are at their mercy." According to a study conducted by professor Ellen Yaroshefsky of Cardozo Law School, some prosecutors actually "fall in love with their rats." A prosecutor in the study describes the phenomenon: "You are not supposed to, of course. But you spend time with this guy, you get to know him and his family. You like him. [T]he reality is that the cooperator's information often becomes your mindset." In this view, criminal snitching is a sort of Frankenstein's monster that has turned on and begun to consume its law enforcement creator.
The government's traditional justification for creating criminal snitches¡ª"we-need-to-flip-little-fishes-to-get-to-the-Big-Fish"¡ªis at best an ideal and mostly the remnant of one. Today, the government lets all sorts of criminals, both big and little, trade information to escape punishment for nearly every kind of crime, and often the snitches are more dangerous than the targets. As reported by Wall Street Journal reporter Laurie Cohen last year: "The big fish gets off and the little fish gets eaten. ... [T]he procedure for deciding who gets [rewarded for cooperation] is often haphazard and tilted toward higher-ranking veteran criminals who can tell prosecutors what they want to know."
Snitching thus puts us right through the looking glass: Criminals direct police investigations while avoiding arrest and punishment. Nevertheless, snitching is ever more popular with law enforcement: It is easier to "flip" defendants and turn them into snitches than it is to fight over their cases. For a criminal system that has more cases than it can litigate, and more defendants than it can incarcerate, snitching has become a convenient case-management tool for an institution that has bitten off more than it can chew.
And while the government's snitching policy has gone mostly unchallenged, it is both damaging to the justice system and socially expensive. Snitches are famously unreliable: A 2004 study by the Northwestern University Law School's Center on Wrongful Convictions reveals that 46 percent of wrongful death penalty convictions are due to snitch misinformation¡ªmaking snitches the leading cause of wrongful conviction in capital cases. Jailhouse snitches routinely concoct information; the system gives them every incentive to do so. Los Angeles snitch Leslie White infamously avoided punishment for his crimes for years by fabricating confessions and attributing them to his cellmates.
Snitches also undermine law-enforcement legitimacy¡ªpolice who rely on and protect their informants are often perceived as favoring criminals. In a growing number of public fiascos, snitches actually invent crimes and criminals in order to provide the government with the information it demands. In Dallas, for example, in the so-called "fake drug scandal," paid informants set up innocent Mexican immigrants with fake drugs (gypsum), while police falsified drug field tests in order to inflate their drug-bust statistics.
Finally, as the T-shirt controversy illustrates, snitching exacerbates crime, violence, and distrust in some of the nation's most socially vulnerable communities. In the poorest neighborhoods, vast numbers of young people are in contact with the criminal-justice system. Nearly every family contains someone who is incarcerated, under supervision, or has a criminal record. In these communities, the law-enforcement policy of pressuring everyone to snitch can have the devastating effect of tearing families and social networks apart. Ironically, these are the communities most in need of positive role models, strong social institutions, and good police-community relations. Snitching undermines these important goals by setting criminals loose, creating distrust, and compromising police integrity.
The "Stop Snitchin' " T-shirts have drawn local fire for their perceived threat to law-abiding citizens who call the police. But in the outrage over that perceived threat, the larger message of the shirts has been missed: Government policies that favor criminal snitching harm the communities most in need of law-enforcement protection.
While snitching will never be abolished, the practice could be substantially improved, mostly by lifting the veil of secrecy that shields law-enforcement practices from public scrutiny. As things stand, police and prosecutors can cut a deal with a criminal; turn him into a snitch or cut him loose; forgive his crimes or resurrect them later; release him into the community; or decide to pick him up. They do all this at their discretion, without legal rules, in complete secrecy with no judicial or public accountability. As a result, we have no idea whether snitching even reduces crime or actually increases it, and we can only guess at the collateral harms it imposes on high-crime communities.
The government should reveal snitching's real costs, including data on how many snitches are released into high-crime neighborhoods and what sorts of snitch crimes are forgiven. The government should also be required to establish the concrete benefits of a policy that releases some criminals to catch others, by accounting for how much crime actually gets stopped or solved by snitch information. Only then can we rationally evaluate how much government-sponsored snitching makes sense. Until we can know the real value of snitching, the T-shirts remain an important reminder that this particular cure for crime may be as bad as the disease.
From Louisville to Boston, there is a culture of intimidation and fear pervading crime-infested inner cities, and it's being perpetuated through an unlikely source: fashion. An increasingly popular slogan --"Stop Snitching"-- is being slapped across T-shirts everywhere, encouraging silence and reinforcing a cycle of violence.
Some in law enforcement suspect that the growing number of unsolved crimes is related to the increasing popularity of the "Stop Snitching" message. In October 2005, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported that two different trials in the city were interrupted by witnesses wearing "Stop Snitching" shirts. But the proprietors of the message have not stopped with T-shirts. They've taken their mantra to the Web, recorded threats on video and even made CDs and it's all for sale from Pittsburgh to Baltimore.
Although the "Stop Snitching" message has been spreading since 1998, law enforcement and victims' families are speaking out against the harmful slogan and urging witnesses to come forward to help make their communities safer.
AMW Senior Correspondent Tom Morris traveled to Kansas City, Mo. in January 2006 and explained during a radio interview just how harmful the message can be in communities already riddled with crime. Kansas City itself is a place where about 40% of all homicides in 2005 were still unsolved.
"In the twelve years that I've been with the show, I've seen a significant rise in unsolved cases that come to us," Morris told a HOT-103 DJ during the interview. "I think part of that is because of this culture of, 'Don't tell; let it ride.'"
In New Bedford, Mass, Phyllis Lopes is also taking a stand against "Stop Snitching." Her grandson Cecil Lopes, was killed on Halloween night in 2004, and even though there were people out trick-or-treating, no one has come forward as a witness. In response, Lopes has started her own T-shirt campaign with the slogans, "Keep It Real, Talk About It," "Speak Up, Speak Out," and "Stand."
Boston police are hoping that "Stop Snitching" won't interfere with another investigation they are pursuing in the murders of four young men in December 2005. John Walsh and AMW held a press conference with Boston police on Feb. 1, 2006 to discuss growing violence in the city and to encourage people to come forward if they witness a crime.
In Baltimore, police are speaking out against "Stop Snitching" in a unique way. After cuffing several of the thugs who created an underground "Stop Snitching" video, the Baltimore PD released their own video called, "Keep on Talking; We're Listening."
With these efforts and the continued work of victims' relatives, like Phyllis Lopes, witnesses who may be able to help solve crimes will be able to do so safely and without fear of retribution.
Most nights of the year, somebody in inner-city Baltimore gets murdered and it's usually to do with drugs.
The poorest parts of the city's east and west sides have been in the grip of heroin and crack-cocaine for many years now, despite the startling statistic that reported crime is down 50% since 1999.
Such is the self-confidence of the drug-dealing fraternity, that last year they made a DVD called "Stop Snitching".
In it, a series of small-time local hoods brandishing handguns, wads of cash and diamond-encrusted watches, send out a message that anyone who informs on them will be beaten or killed.
It's a poorly-made but lurid glimpse inside a world that has its own twisted rules.
As some of the youngsters start rapping over a car stereo, you can see the natural talent that lurks beneath the rage and the drugs.
It became a big hit in the city and way beyond, not least because it momentarily features one of Baltimore's best-known sons hanging out on his home turf, who also happens to be a major basketball star.
DVD fight back
A few days ago, he denounced the video at a press conference alongside Maryland's governor.
Baltimore's police department has come up with a more imaginative way of fighting back though.
After a few months of careful production, they've released a video of their own, complete with hip hop soundtrack.
"Keep Talking" features a group of mainly African-American men on the cover staring impassively into the camera.
To the strains of the song "Shook Ones" - slang for scared men in the ghetto - Detective Donny Moses begins his voiceover.
"The men and women of the Baltimore Police Department would like to thank the producers of the Stop Snitching video.
"In case you didn't know," it continues, "you've made Baltimore a safer city."
What he means is that four of the men featured in the video have now been locked up, having apparently incriminated themselves on the tape.
Officers believe the original video was intended mainly to intimidate criminals who inform on fellow drug-dealers, but its impact was more general and more damaging.
Detective Moses told me who the police video was trying to reach.
"We want the innocent person out there to know, it's OK to talk to the police.
"For people who are in the drug game so to speak, we're here to try to help you make a better life for yourself.
"And for those people that just have to do the wrong thing," he said, with a look that reflected six years spent in the narcotics squad, "we're here to take you off the streets.
"We're eventually going to take you down, one by one."
Videos are not the only potent hip hop medium that the police are dealing with.
A few months ago, several manufacturers began making Stop Snitching T-shirts, and one local chain began selling them in its stores.
We visited a mall and found only one T-shirt left.
An assistant told me they had sold out twice already, and he couldn't see why police would be concerned.
To many, it seems, the glorification of crime is just part of the culture, whether the intimidation is real or not.
"We've a lot of young people who idolise these drug dealers. The reality is, the guys they're looking up to are going to be spending their lives in a four-by-six cell with no fancy jewellery, no cars, no money and no girls - if they don't get killed first," said Matt Jablow, police public affairs director, who thought up the Keep Talking response.
The police have now printed their own T-shirts too.
I went along to watch a group of community affairs officers handing out copies of the DVD, in some of the places they think the message needs to be seen most.
The lead officer, Major Rick Hite, said the video was "going like hot cakes - we've flipped the script".
More than 1,000 have been handed out, and demand certainly seems greater than supply.
He admitted there was a danger that young people could see the whole hip hop culture confrontation, as a piece of entertainment.
"But the kids want to see the good guy win in the end. Part of this is to provide them with wrap-around services.
"If you want to turn your life around, here's an opportunity for you."
At the rundown indoor market we visited, there are signs of new development, but the heroin pushers are still doing brisk business.
Plenty of young men in baseball caps and hoodies were kicking around with not much to do.
Some took copies of the video, others weren't interested.
Unsurprisingly, none were keen to talk to the BBC.
Several older men said they could understand the hostility and lack of trust towards the police, claiming that petty harassment was common.
"I don't like snitches," said one man, carrying away a copy of the police video.
The "code" on the streets where they have to live calls for self-policing, he added.
One of the stall holders gave another reason why there is still much work to do in this community, to ensure that people really keep talking.
Youths had been selling drugs right in front of her a few hours earlier, making it impossible to sell food, but police had failed to respond to calls she had made for assistance, she said.
The plea for more face-time with officers in the most blighted parts of the city was reiterated by the veteran public servant Calvin Street, who now, in retirement, runs a busy youth opportunities centre on the eastside.
"I believe most of the police force are good guys," said the boyhood friend of the current police commissioner.
"But also, some young people come in after a weekend and tell me about things that happen, that give them a distain for the whole force."
In the last few days, two more men have been remanded and are now awaiting trial, thanks in part to being mentioned in the Stop Snitching video.
Unfortunately, they are Baltimore police officers who are accused of re-selling illegal drugs on their beat over many years.
However much good work is done, the "rotten apples" are the ones that stick in people's minds, said Mr Street.
The stall holder back at the market took their arrest as a healthy sign.
"Just like these kids selling drugs out here, you've got police officers doing the same thing, and it shows nobody is above the law."
By Andy Sullivan
OUTSIDE OF BALTIMORE, Maryland (Reuters) - The only way Edna McAbier returns to Baltimore now is under police escort.
Since neighborhood gang members firebombed her row house in January 2005 for talking to the police, McAbier lives in a distant town she doesn't dare to name full of people she doesn't dare to know.
The seven young men who tried to kill her will be in prison for years to come, some for the rest of their lives. But that's little comfort to the former community activist who's now exiled from her home of more than 30 years.
She works from home and pays her utility bills under a false name. A devout Southern Baptist, she has not joined a church for fear that news of her whereabouts might make its way back to Harwood, the hardscrabble neighborhood on the north side of Baltimore.
"I'll never feel 100 percent safe," said McAbier, 60.
Across the United States, criminals have cowed entire neighborhoods into silence with warnings to "stop snitching." Those who ignore the threats, like McAbier, face harassment and violence.
In Washington, a 14-year-old girl was killed in 2004 after police came to her door to ask her about a murder she might have seen.
In Pittsburgh, people wearing "stop snitching" T-shirts disrupted several criminal trials last year. In Boston the mayor threatened to confiscate the T-shirts from store shelves.
In Philadelphia, a 35-year-old man faces prosecution after ordering his daughter, in front of a judge, to testify that she knew nothing about a murder case.
In Chicago, police have been unable to solve more than half of all homicide cases even as the murder rate has plummeted -- in large part because witnesses do not come forward or recant their testimony.
And in Baltimore, the attack on McAbier echoed a horrific 2002 firebombing that killed a family of seven after the mother reported neighborhood drug dealers to police.
'NOBODY KNOWS ANYTHING'
Law enforcers say they are increasingly met with silence when investigating crimes that take place in broad daylight, on crowded streets.
"There is a significant number of cases where a crime is committed in front of everybody, and nobody knows anything," said Philadelphia District Attorney Lynne Abraham.
Without witnesses, police in Philadelphia can't make arrests in 30 percent of criminal cases even when they have other evidence that points to a suspect, Abraham said.
U.S. and state agencies don't keep statistics on witness intimidation, and experts say the problem is hard to measure. A 1996 Justice Department survey found that intimidation poses a problem for prosecutors across the country and is a factor in nearly all criminal cases in some gang-dominated areas.
The survey also found that the public often overestimates the danger.
That, of course, is the goal.
One of the men convicted for trying to kill McAbier reportedly had produced an underground DVD in which he warned would-be witnesses to "stop snitching." He and others involved in the attack decided that firebombing McAbier's house would instill more fear in the community than simply shooting her, prosecutors said at their trial.
THE GUNS ARE REAL
"A lot of it is posture, but there's a fine line," said Peter Moskos, a sociology professor at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City. "You see a 'stop snitching' video, they're bragging for the camera and whatnot, but the guns are real."
Sitting in a chain restaurant outside Baltimore, McAbier said she was not deterred by the vandalism and harassment that were her reward for organizing neighborhood clean-ups and increased police patrols.
Then came the firebombing. Hours after the Molotov cocktails bounced off her roof, McAbier had packed her bags and enrolled in a witness-protection program. She spent the next several months in a succession of cheap motels, a police officer stationed outside her door, then moved out of the city for good.
Her new neighborhood is free of trash, drug dealers and prostitutes. The streets are quiet at night and on weekends they're crowded with children riding bicycles and fathers pushing lawn mowers.
Harwood, meanwhile, has seen a spike in homicides and other violent crimes. But McAbier said she would move back in a heartbeat if she could.
"This is what happens, this is exactly what happens," she said, looking out the window at a strip-mall parking lot. "Who's it going to happen to next?"
0„8 Reuters 2006. All rights reserved. Republication or redistribution of Reuters content, including by caching, framing or similar means, is expressly prohibited without the prior written consent of Reuters. Reuters and the Reuters sphere logo are registered trademarks and trademarks of the Reuters group of companies around the world.
Christopher Heredia, Chronicle Staff Writer
Saturday, January 28, 2006
Right or wrong, the code of the street in poor, largely black neighborhoods in the Bay Area is never, ever cooperate with police.
To do so, the idea goes, means risking retaliation from criminals. The ethos cuts across generations, even as some who embrace it complain police do little about crime in their neighborhoods.
The mind-set is moving from the streets to the mainstream, carried by rappers denouncing rats and T-shirts declaring, "Stop Snitchin."
The T-shirts have proven popular in Oakland and elsewhere, prompting a debate within the communities where they're worn and frustrating police who say they're another hurdle to effectively policing the neighborhoods that need it most.
"The young men wearing the shirts are putting out fear," said the Rev. Curtis Robinson, senior pastor of Rising Star Missionary Baptist Church in Oakland. "If you see somebody wearing a shirt, you know they are affiliated with a group of people who are not committed to building up the neighborhood, but instead are trying to tear it down."
Such arguments don't carry much weight with some residents who argue the T-shirts -- bearing slogans such as "Ditches are for Snitches" and "Snitches Get Stitches" -- merely reflect the commonsense notion that it's best to mind your own business.
" 'Stop snitchin' ' is a good motto because if you don't meddle in something that ain't your business, you'll live longer," 29-year-old Eric Davis said while shopping at Durant Square shopping center in Oakland, where several merchants sell the shirts. "That's why snitches die, sticking their nose in business that ain't theirs."
The controversy has erupted in other cities. Last week, a judge in Massachusetts barred such T-shirts from state courthouses, saying they intimidate witnesses.
The notion that one shouldn't cooperate with police has been embraced by people of all races, but its roots date to the era of slavery, said journalist and hip hop historian Davey D, who hosts the "Hard Knock Radio" show on KPFA.
"If you were breaking the law and the law was designed to keep blacks contained, say you stole from the master or took something from the 'white' area, you didn't rat out people," he said.
The mentality became institutionalized as distrust of the police mounted within communities of color and people believed that the police did not have their best interests at heart, he said.
Popular culture has carried the idea into the mainstream over the years, through Mafia films like "Goodfellas" and rap tunes by artists including Jay-Z and the Game.
In March, Black Entertainment Television will start a series based on rapper Lil' Kim's road to prison for refusing to "snitch" on members of her entourage believed to have been in a shootout with a rival group.
The appearance of the T-shirts in music videos, on CD covers and hip hop posters has catapulted them into the mainstream. The shirts are widely available on eBay and in shops around the region.
"I don't want to promote lawlessness, but this is what the kids today want," said Fayaz Besmil, who owns two T-shirt shops in the Durant Square mall.
Besmil said he pulled the "Stop Snitchin' " T-shirts off his shelves after he heard they were stirring controversy in other cities. He replaced them with shirts reading "Increase the Peace" and "Stop Violence" but found they didn't sell.
"The youth are not into anything peaceful," he said.
Oakland Police Chief Wayne Tucker said the shirts undermine efforts to quell violence and do little to improve what city leaders admit is an often shaky relationship between police and some neighborhoods they serve.
"The ethos is self-defeating," he said. "If we want safety in our neighborhoods, people's refusal to cooperate is not serving the community."
Police recognize that some people legitimately fear retribution if they come forward, but also believe many people do not want to help police no matter what.
"If someone is afraid for their safety, I understand not talking to the police, but not the vague disassociation with police," said Lt. Mark Gagan, Richmond Police spokesman. " 'Stop Snitching' allows violence to continue, allows cases to be unsolved. It's your city suffering."
But as much as Sonja Martin of Vallejo might like to encourage her 13-year-old son to cooperate with the police, she can't.
"It's too dangerous," she said. "It's best to keep quiet. They have to keep their safety and their family's safety in mind. People want to say something. They just don't."
Still, she and others who feel that way see the shirts as counterproductive. Austin Thurman, a grandfather from San Francisco's Bayview-Hunters Point, shook his head in disgust at shirts glamorizing drug dealing and denouncing "snitches" in a clothing store in East Oakland.
"We're trying to get dope out of our streets, and they're selling these shirts," Thurman said. "It doesn't gel."
But he understands the ethos of the street, even if he opposes it.
"You can't be a snitch in the 'hood," said Thurman, a skycap for U.S. Airways. "Sometimes you have to just turn your head."
Many said police would enjoy greater cooperation if they would reach out to the communities they serve.
"The ethos is due in part to the lack of communication between law enforcement and kids," said Robinson. "Police can't catch the criminals because people can't trust them."
As parent Melvin Palmer sees it, the culture of secrecy is not one that is going to die any time soon.
"Growing up, I was told to turn the other cheek," said Palmer, a 35-year-old father of three from Richmond who was raised in San Francisco's Sunnydale housing project. "It's just a fact of life. The police got their 'blue shield.' 'Stop snitchin' is the code of the streets."
E-mail Christopher Heredia at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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