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OpEdNews Op Eds    H4'ed 10/18/09

Survival 101: Thou Shalt Not Snitch

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In my old West Side neighborhood, "body snatchers" are real. There, I have known of masked gunmen to creep upon their prey in the still of night as they sit on a porch unsuspectingly, to kick in doors and hold people at gunpoint, or else to kidnap, maim and murder. They have come for a known gang leader in broad daylight, stuffed him in the trunk of a car while bodyguards watched helplessly. From a child, I have witnessed gunplay and gangs and drug dealers and pimps in shiny Cadillacs, glaring like the sun, and the police drive by street corners—where hustlers hawk their wares—and do nothing.

The Law—the police—in certain neighborhoods isn't necessarily the law. Once the flashing white-and-blues disappear, we who were left behind understood that we were then at the mercy of the lawless or at least left to protect ourselves by any means necessary.

For some, our insurance was God. For others, it was the gun. For others still, a little bit of both. But seldom did we consider the police.

Would someone who gave vital information to police stand more to gain, or more to lose? And if the bad guys should come for them, masked and under the cover of night, who of us could they then call? Would the cavalry arrive too late, if at all?

And, as in the recent beating death of 16-year-old Derrion Albert, if it was the case, as some students have alleged, that a police squad car arrived at the scene during the melee, though no officers intervened to save Derrion, what measure of protection can anyone who witnessed it expect they might receive as a "snitch"?

Given the historic marginalization of black and brown life—and death—why would one think that losing their life for having been brave enough to speak out might somehow make the difference? Why wouldn't they simply become like the scores of murder victims whose names week in and week out don't even make the newspaper's police blotter?

And yet, I have heard them—politicians, police and pundits—reviling the people of these neighborhoods for not coming forward. And I think to myself, 'Easy for them to say. Let them lay aside their bodyguards, their chauffeur-driven limousines and their legal sidearm, and let's see just how brave they'd be.' Instead we all leave the 'hood and go safely home.

Whenever gunfire thundered in the night in my old neighborhood, I was always grateful when the scene was blocks away, relieved that any blood spilled had not come nigh my front door. Except in a way, I always realized it was never that far away. That every evil that happened in my neighborhood, in one sense or another, always happened to us all.

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A native son of Chicago, John W. Fountain is an award-winning journalist, professor and author of the memoir, True Vine: A Young Black Man's Journey of Faith Hope and Clarity (Public Affairs, 2003), paperback March 2005. His essay, "The God Who (more...)
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