Rapper Who Might Not Snitch on Cho
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At first glance it defied belief. There was platinum-selling rap artist Cam'ron brazenly telling 60 Minutes this past Sunday that, if he knew the identity and the whereabouts of a mass killer, he wouldn't lift a finger to help police catch him.
Presumably that meant that if Seung Hui Cho had rapped and partied with Cam'ron, and then Cho had blurted out to him that he intended to commit murder and mayhem at Virginia Tech, Cam'ron wouldn't have squealed to the police.
This is too serious to wave off as the mindless blather of an airhead rapper out to sound hip, cool and controversial, and of course to sell more records. Cam'ron sells a lot of records to a lot of impressionable young and not so young men. They hang on his image and words. Worse, his silly anti-snitch plea touches a nerve with many blacks.
The long history of police-black community conflict, the rage that many African-Americans feel over the countless number of blacks that have been jailed and even dumped on death row merely on the word of a street or a jailhouse informant is a sore point.
A study by Northwestern University Law School Center on Wrongful Convictions found that, in the 100 wrongful death penalty convictions of black men in the past quarter century, the majority were convicted on the perjured testimony of alleged eyewitnesses. Numerous studies have shown that blacks are far more likely than any other group to distrust the police and less likely to talk to them about criminal acts.
Then there's the fear factor. Many are scared stiff that they'd suffer retaliation if they blew the whistle on a violent perpetrator, and that the police wouldn't protect them. These are not totally false fears. City police departments spend far fewer dollars on witness protection programs than the federal government does. Many blacks feel the risk is too great if they unzip their lips.
Their fear and the rocky relations with the police are understandable. But it doesn't justify a rapper or anyone else telling blacks to keep silent when they witness a crime and can provide information about it. Blacks have more to lose than any other group when they turn a blind eye to crime.
They are more likely to be the victims of homicide, assaults and other violent crimes. A murderer or assailant will less likely be caught when a victim is black. While the homicide clearance rate nationally is about 60 percent, the clearance rate for solving murders in some big cities is in single-digit figures. Police, and prosecutors in some big cities, scream that they can't get people to come forth and tell what they know.
At a recent forum in Los Angeles, I listened as Los Angeles Police Department homicide detectives implored the mostly black audience to provide information on crimes. Their silence, they said, ensures that more violent criminals will roam the streets freely.
In short, the cold case files will continue to balloon, and the victims in almost all cases will be black, especially young black males. The anti-snitch message he pumps puts them squarely in harm's way. That includes some of his fellow rap icons. Tupac Shakur, Notorious B.I.G and Run DMC's Jam Master Jay were gunned down. Years later their murders still nestle in the cold case files. One of those files belongs to the bodyguard of Gangster rapper Busta Rhymes. His bodyguard was shot dead, and there's strong suspicion that Rhymes and his entourage could provide information to help solve the murder. But Rhymes has squawked loudly about not talking to the police.
Cam'ron and Rhymes aren't lone voices telling blacks not to snitch. There's a brisk growth industry in peddling T-shirts with the words "stop snitching" printed in bold letters, urging blacks to keep quiet when they witness crimes. This has enraged victims of violence and gang violence prevention groups.
In Los Angeles and a handful of other cities, anti-violence prevention activists have tramped into shops and demanded that the storeowners yank the shirts from the shelves. This begs the issue. The merchants have the right to sell anything they choose, including a T-shirt that carries this deadly message. But those concerned about the mounting carnage in some black neighborhoods should protest against the damaging message on the shirts and the messengers that deliver it.
Cam'ron, Rhymes and other rappers that demand that blacks keep their mouths closed want to sell records, and in the process tout a phony street ethic that brands it a horror to talk to the police. By doing this, they endanger others, those that buy their records and themselves. The unsolved murders of their rap pals prove that. The rap lyric they should sing is "Open your mouth if you see a crime, the life you save could be your own."
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is a political analyst and social issues commentator, and the author of the book, "The Emerging Black GOP Majority" (Middle Passage Press, September 2006), a hard-hitting look at Bush and the GOP's court of black voters.