The Anti-Snitching Movement: Bad Values and Proud of It
Boston is having some success getting merchants to stop selling the suddenly popular “Stop Sntichin’!” T-shirts, launched by a website of the same name. Boston officials regard the shirts as part of a witness intimidation effort, and that seems to be a valid reason to try to get them off the street even if there weren’t so many others. The so-called “anti-snitching” movement is nothing but an effort by ethically warped individuals to spread their destructive values to others, advocating abandonment of civic duty, lawlessness and cowardice under the guise of loyalty and honor. It needs to be officially condemned in public, and confronted head on by parents and schools. It is insidious, pernicious and vile. It also appeals to some part of all of us.
The anti-snitching movement is where the Golden Rule breaks down. All of us at some point in our lives have detested someone who got us into trouble by exposing our misdeeds to an authority figure. Most of us probably remember a parent or another influential adult telling us as children that “snitching” wasn’t the way to make friends or engender trust. Those of us who remember the Cold War recall that one of the chilling aspects of Soviet Russian society was that it pressured neighbors to report the “disloyal” activities of neighbors, and taught children to report their parents and friends. When we are put in a situation that suggests that the right thing to do would be to report someone else’s crime or violation of a rule, there is gut revulsion in most of us that has been nurtured for a very long time. It feels wrong. Quite simply, nobody likes a snitch.
But we’re not kids anymore, and societal norms, rules, and limits depend on community support and enforcement. We find it revolting to read about dirty cops protected by the “blue wall,” by unwritten professional codes that permit deadly surgeons to keep operating and incompetent lawyers to keep practicing. Yet we hesitate to report that a fellow worker is harassing associates, or that a neighbor is abusing a pet. Reporting misconduct serious misconduct, not mistakes, misjudgments, or small infractions is a duty, and it’s a duty no matter who you have to report. It’s a tough duty, to be sure, requiring courage. Openness and fairness. But it has to be done.
The anti-snitching movement is based on an erroneous ethical hierarchy that puts loyalty to individuals above all other values. On the sinister side, it also supports crime by urging witnesses to stay quiet while lawbreakers prey on neighbors, friends and strangers. A good place to start fighting it is to oppose the use of the word “snitch,” which dredges up all the childhood taboos on being a tattletale. Let’s call it reporting, being civically responsible, or whistleblowing. Or simply “doing the right thing.”