|The Great White North: Social Media and white people do 'snitch' you Maple Leaf wearing thug|
In many Baltimore neighborhoods, talking to the law has become a mortal sin, a dishonorable act punishable by social banishment—or worse. Prosecutors in the city can rattle off a litany of brutal retaliations: houses firebombed, witnesses and their relatives shot, contract hits on 10-year-olds. Witness intimidation, they say, badly hampers their ability to fight crime, and it affects nearly every murder case they try.
Prosecutors in most major U.S. cities tell similar stories. Two years ago in Philadelphia, a drug kingpin was convicted of witness intimidation after he was taped threatening to kill those who testified against him. Five relatives of one witness in the case had already died, in a house fire that prosecutors believe was the drug lord’s doing. Last year in San Francisco, two gang members beat a murder rap after the state’s star witness turned up dead. Several years ago in Denver, a key homicide witness was sexually assaulted in what prosecutors believe was a “contract” attack designed to frighten him out of testifying.
Police and prosecutors have been contending with reluctant witnesses for decades. But according to law-enforcement experts, the problem is getting dramatically worse, and is reflected in falling arrest and conviction rates for violent crimes. In cities with populations between half a million (for example, Tucson) and a million (Detroit), the proportion of violent crimes cleared by an arrest dropped from about 45 percent in the late 1990s to less than 35 percent in 2005, according to the FBI. Conviction rates have similarly dropped. At the same time, crime has spiked. Murder rates have risen more or less steadily since 2000. Last December, the FBI voiced concern over a jump in violent crime, which in 2005 showed its biggest increase in more than a decade.
The reasons for witnesses’ reluctance appear to be changing and becoming more complex, with the police confronting a new cultural phenomenon: the spread of the gangland code of silence, or omerta, from organized crime to the population at large. Those who cooperate with the police are labeled “snitches” or “rats”—terms once applied only to jailhouse informants or criminals who turned state’s evidence, but now used for “civilian” witnesses as well. This is particularly true in the inner cities, where gangsta culture has been romanticized through rap music and other forms of entertainment, and where the motto “Stop snitching,” expounded in hip-hop lyrics and emblazoned on caps and T-shirts, has become a creed.
Now juxtapose this aversion to ‘snitching’ by Black people to the actions by Vancouver’s law-abiding population in the hours that followed the riot after the Stanley Cup game seven playoff loss:
The metastasis of this culture of silence in minority communities has been facilitated by a gradual breakdown of trust in the police and the government. The erosion began during the civil-rights era, when informants were a favorite law-enforcement tool against groups like the Black Panthers. But it accelerated because of the war on drugs. David Kennedy, the director of the Center for Crime Prevention and Control at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, in New York, told me: “This is the reward we have reaped for 20 years of profligate drug enforcement in these communities.” When half the young black men in a neighborhood are locked up, on bail, or on parole, the police become the enemy. Add to this the spread of racialized myths—that crack was created by the CIA to keep blacks in their place, for example—and you get a toxic mix. Kennedy thinks the silence of many witnesses doesn’t come from fear, but from anger.
Then, something happened which killed the buzz dead in its tracks: the Canucks lost to the Bruins 4-0. And, for the second time in franchise history, Canucks fans rioted after losing the 7th game of a Stanley Cup playoff. The first riot was on June 14th 1994 when the Canucks lost to the New York Rangers. Twenty years later, the scene was eerily similar. Angry and disappointed fans took to Vancouver streets, starting fires, looting from stores, and causing general havoc for hours after the game.
What’s worse? Vancouver was sure it had matured. Leading up to the game radio hosts, journalists, and fans all agreed: rioting wasn’t a risk this time. This morning, everyone is hanging their heads and wondering: is this Vancouver – a city with the emotional capacity of a toddler?
While news reports paint one picture of Vancouver, social media provides – if not a different image – a different perspective of the city. Within hours of the riots, pages popped up on Facebook to try and create a different kind of mob mentality: one to help. A campaign aimed to identify rioters attracted 20, 000 people in less than twelve hours. On it, users are encouraged to post pictures and video of rioters in hopes they can be identified. The wall reads:
“People need to be held accountable for their actions and face the consequences under any circumstances”
A similar Tumblr site titled the Vancouver Riot Criminals List is also trying to help police catch those involved.
Another Facebook page was created late Wednesday; it called for people to help with clean up. It reads: “Invite all of your friends! Let’s see if we can get Vancouver looking like a new city by noon Thursday!” The site’s copy is positive, affirmative and respectful of the needs of police to keep parts of downtown closed.
On June 15th, 2011 the online Vancouver and the offline Vancouver were vastly different. Which one was indicative of the city’s true identity? While the volume of followers on social media makes it tempting to vouch for the online community, Vancouver must acknowledge last night’s riots. Once is a blip. Twice is the beginning of a pattern. Perhaps, Vancouver’s biggest issue was that it refused to believe the riots could happen again. With ocean and mountains, Vancouver is a geographically stunning city. It is accepting and diverse. It’s easy to ignore the under belly. What is it that compels Vancouver residents to riot? To answer this, Vancouver needs to take a good look at itself.
All across the Western world, similar examples of Black people engaging in irrational behavior without alcohol to fuel their peculiar behavior are transpiring; in London, the majority of violent crime is perpetrated by the recent Black immigrants who comprise a growing percentage of the population though they were near zero percent only 70 years ago.
But that look should include Facebook campaigns and Tumblr pages. What does a city do when its residents do the unthinkable? Well, it depends on the city. Some would get angry. Some would blame politicians. Others, however, would show strength in numbers – create Facebook groups and Tumblr pages whose 1000’s of followers vastly outnumber the few hundred troublemakers on the street.
Civilization can only exist when those who commit crime are shunned – violently if they must be – and castigated to the fullest extent the law can provide. When police and government can no longer guarantee the safety of civilians, people must shame the laws inadequacies to ensure peace and stability.
Black people refuse to snitch; Vancouver citizens have utilized social media to find those responsible for the violence in their city:
Vancouver vigilantes have set up a website encouraging people to upload their photos of last night's riot, in the hopes that other people will identify the worst offenders and report them to the police.
The idea is to get people to tag the photos using Facebook, and the let the cops take it from there.
This summer, many American cities will see similar violence that Vancouver saw on June 15th. Alcohol will not be an ingredient in the violence – it has not been discussed as the a culprit or aid in instigating the Mahogany Mobs that plague Chicago – but the failure to properly identify those Black people engaging in thuggery will be.
There's definitely no shortage of pictures, not just here, but on other websites and we imagine quite few people (like the setting a cop car on fire) will be getting visits from the Mounties in the next few weeks.
Whereas whites use social media in the aftermath of the Vancouver riot to identity those who would bring shame to their city, Black people use social media to organize Mahogany Mobs, Smash and Grab attack, Polar Bear Hunts, and Knockout King games. Not an ounce of shame is lost in the process.
Their parents – more than likely, their mom – will excuse away their behavior and Black people will refrain from ‘snitching’ to ensure that miscreants go free to engage in Black mobbery again unimpeded.