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Commentary: No Snitch! The new number one selling tee-shirt
Published on April 19, 2014 Email To Friend    Print Version

By Derrick Miller

Over the past few months, I have been following Vybz Kartel’s murder trial. He was recently convicted for the 2011 murder of Clive "Lizard" Williams. What I really wanted to know was how the victim and families became lost in the debates. I am not sure if they feared retaliation so they laid low. I would have liked hear how they felt with support.

Derrick Miller holds a Bachelor of Science degree in economics and finance, an MBA degree in global management and a Master of Science in criminal justice leadership. He is also a graduate from a top US federal law enforcement academy and has been a part criminal justice and public service field for over 14 years.
Previously, as I have noted here, the trial was all about the prosecutor, and the Jamaican government celebrity, money and a distrusted system under one roof. Now that he has been sentenced, it appears this trial will have a lasting effect on the communities. Again, the region still struggles to fight off skepticism when it comes to the criminal justice environment.

Recently, it was reported that Mr Kytel has spoken to the authorities, and they received additional information, which led to over 17 guns confiscated from the community. I do not have any proof of that, and may be somewhat skeptical, but any guns off any street always save lives, and the department should be commended for its continued efforts.

I am not under any illusions that the department is not under pressure in recent years to change the criminal atmosphere; however, they alone cannot be blamed for every criminal element that is taking over the region. It takes stakeholders, from the local pastor to community organizations, and leadership in government, to make a difference and this is not just guns fighting guns.

If Mr Kytel has provided information to the authorities now, perhaps there should have been a plea deal prior to trial if one had not been offered. This maybe would have resulted in more arrests of members of the gangs reported that were afflicted with the killing. Moreover, why would the police department update the public on this information without any arrests as this point? Does this information make a different or change opinions already formed about the system, not only in Jamaica, but also throughout the region?

Here is the point of the article: The other issue where does the word snitch fits into the ongoing criminal elements where everyone knows everybody. Today, there is still no sign of the victim’s body from the recent murder trial.

Nevertheless, on a recent visit to the islands, between my walk from the airport to the parking lot, I encountered two young men wearing tee-shirts with the infamous “No Snitch” printed in bold.

Snitching came to Main Street about ten years ago as I can recall. It has been part of the American criminal environment that was more known to be associated with the Mafia enterprise for decades. It gained mainstream attention in the black and minority communities when a video surfaced of drug dealers threatening violence against members of a crew not to talk to police. I do not have any other historical documents on this concept, other than the tactics used to drive fear, intimidation, and violence.

Ronald Moten and his anti-violence group in late 2007 in Washington, DC, area tried to break the ice. He mentioned that, in some cases, prosecutors blamed witness intimidation for their failures to win conviction in homicide cases. One famous rapper Cam’ron, as Moten noted, was interviewed on "60 Minutes" about why he refused to cooperate with police after shots were fired in Washington during a botched car-jacking in 2005.

In other cases especially, young school boys and girls were killed because people thought that they had cooperated with the police. In addition, several cases were not brought to the courts out of the witnesses’ fear of being killed. He asked the question, if someone shot your mother during a drive-by, would you have a problem with it. Since that time and as troubling as it seemed, I never saw another “Snitched” tee-shirt and then only when I looked at a YouTube Video, when most of the subjects’ faces were blocked out.

Looking back at the recent crimes in the region including close friends, where their crimes still have not been solved, I began to wonder how this dirty little secret reached the seashore. One of the proud arguments in the Caribbean is that one does not need a GPS to find a lost family. Everyone knows someone. The concept is that it takes an entire community to raise a child. No one knows this more than the Caribbean community, but it seems unusual in these occurrences that silence has become the new normal. Then again, maybe I am not one to talk about these issues because in my own home state there are still battles between who is a rat or responsible citizen when trust and history collide.

Recently, we learned that famous civil rights leader, Al Sharpton, who has a popular television show on MSNBC, was once a snitch for the FBI. He later stated that he was not a snitch, but a responsible citizen. Some members of a previous Mafia, and the fear of ongoing criminal elements in the community and his own safety threatened him, he spoke up.

We cannot equate the level of protection he received that a rich country such as the US can afford to some in the Caribbean where crime is still a major problem and the community knows the perpetrators. However, what we can learn, he stood against violence, and spoke up against the “Stop the Snitch” underground campaigns.

During the political era in the 1800s local politicians had a heavy influence in the criminal justice system. As society modernized through the 1960s, which is today community policing, citizens now have a voice, but there are still significant disconnects between police and the communities they serve. It seems as it was the segregation period or when colonialism ruled.

One side claimed that the historical mistrust of law enforcement by citizens when they brought information, especially in the black and other minorities, makes it difficult to trust the authorities for fear of retaliation. Many have also argued that when an incident is reported, far too often they never received any follow-up -- another argument blamed on slavery.

This is not one of those emancipate yourself from mental slavery issues when someone is gunned down. The region already gained independence, in my humble opinion, still searching for a perfect union. Having information and not coming forward, notwithstanding the threat of becoming a victim without proper protection. However, it does not amount to an historical document, but simple aiding and abetting, which carries the same penalty as the perpetration of the violence:

Therefore, now let’s get back to why a few of these tee-shirts now look like a badge of honour. I am not sure if it is a fashion statement, or lack of remorse for victims. However, as noted, sometimes law enforcement treatment of citizens often makes it difficult to come forward. On the other side, the community cannot blame police for countless crimes where rape, abuse, robberies, schoolchildren and business people killed and still missing, and no has come forward. This was a circumstantial case, and it could have gone the other way without a body.

The island is always proud, and wears colourful gear in solidarity, and it can be a fashion statement of liberation, but when had the “No Snitch” tee-shirts become so vocal. What happened to let’s promote non-violence against women, education, child abuse, and tolerance, or fight AIDS and cancer? I am hoping to purchase a few on my next trip. Sure, other countries have their problems, and before this topic is completed, someone will be killed from gun related violence, and one in four women had already been a victim of rape or some sexual violence, but where are they heading, as a society with this mind-set has to be reversed.

Although his body might not be found, someone lost an uncle, a father, a son. I hope you ask yourself the same question, what if people who may be buried in your backyard, at sea, fed to alligators or burned and buried, were your family members.

If society does not change this newfound fashion statement, how much have they evolved from the early century, where vigilante justice ruled the day, such as the Wild West, and where politicians, the well-connected, rich and, yes, law enforcement decide the value of one’s life. Is that where we want to go in preparation as the next generation grapples with economic stagnation?
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