Monday, February 21, 2011

Who 'snitching' really betrays

By Professor Alexandra Natapoff

In 1998, I was a community lawyer in inner-city Baltimore and taught an after-school law class for neighborhood kids. One evening, a boy of about 12 said something that would change my thinking forever.

"I got a question," he said, leaning forward intently. "Police let dealers stay on the corner 'cuz they snitching. Is that legal? I mean, can the police do that?" When I explained that they could, he and his friends slumped down in disgust. "That ain't right!" and "The police ain't doing their jobs!" they exclaimed. "So all you gotta do is snitch," another concluded, "and you can keep on dealing."

Fifty years ago, "snitching" had a very different meaning. Last fall, it was claimed that Ernest Withers -- nicknamed the "original civil rights photographer" -- was working as a paid FBI informant even as he snapped iconic pictures of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., the Little Rock Nine and striking sanitation workers.

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