Propaganda, Pimping Or Sloppy Journalism?
Support The Black Press
By Edrea Davis, author of SNITCHCRAFT
Part 1: The Message
For the past few months mainstream media has hyped the "Stop Snitchin" slogan, giving it a life -- and definition -- of its own. A story on CBS News' 60 Minutes presented a one-dimensional view of snitching that appears to be part of an ongoing propaganda campaign designed to hold hip-hop culture accountable for the dysfunctional criminal justice system, and divert the public's attention from the real problems in America.
Whether it's propaganda, pimping, or simply sloppy journalism, the story "Stop Snitchin" was biased and inaccurate. A cursory review of the facts reinforces the urgent need to resurrect the black press as an authentic voice and trustworthy news source capable of dispelling the latest stereotypes.
In the black community it is commonly understood that a snitch is a crafty criminal who negotiates a deal for himself by telling on others. Since the days of slavery, providing information to authorities to gain favor has been viewed negatively. Judas would be considered a snitch primarily because he was one of the disciples, one of the crew.
But, according to the 60 Minutes story, witnesses and concerned citizens are now considered snitches. The report indicated that people of all ages in the black community, even children, are abiding by this so-called code-of-silence out of fear of retaliation. A related story, "A Conspiracy Of Silence, CBS News Investigates: Epidemic Of Witness Intimidation Plagues Justice System" aired a week after the "Stop Snitchin" show.
While it is true that blacks and other minorities have a history of strained relationships with the police, concerned citizens routinely complain about crack houses, slow response times and a lack of police patrols in inner-city neighborhoods. Black people also serve as witnesses and jurors.
Instead of displaying outrage at the suggestion that hip-hop culture has convinced law-abiding "inner-city residents" to participate in a conspiracy against the justice system, many uninformed black people believe and perpetuate this propaganda before checking the source and motives of the messenger.
Since I'm from the "P-Funk" era, I went to allhiphop.com, thuglifearmy.com and eurweb.com to see what the hip-hop generation had to say. Amazingly, about 85% of the posts I read supported the classic definition of snitching. I listened to Chamillionaire's song "No Snitchin." The rapper rhymes about a criminal who "was looking at 30 but only did 10." The song goes on, "streets know the deals you made with the pen."
I suffered through the foul language of Obie Trice f/Akon, "Snitch." When the first word in the song was "convict," I knew it was more talk about criminals. The song says, "started out as a crew who woulda known he would fold and cower."
A few clicks later I was on sohh.com watching an interview with rapper, actor and one of the pioneers of hip-hop, Ice-T. He said, "Snitching is not telling on somebody doing something wrong in the 'hood. It's when you and your partner are involved in a crime and get caught and you tell on your partner. That's snitching."
If I was able to find the meaning of snitching in less than ten clicks of my mouse, I think it's safe to assume that 60 Minutes, a national news program with a budget and research staff, is aware of the nature and definition of snitching and had no interest in being fair and accurate.
A quick look at pertinent information absent from the story is further evidence that it was propaganda. For instance, 60 Minutes neglected to mention that there was honor among thieves long before hip-hop. Dishonest elected officials, corporate executives, and even the "Boys in Blue" have adhered to a don't snitch mantra over the years.
Furthermore, where are the statistics to prove the low clearance rate is due to this epidemic? How many of the crimes solved were due to "suburban" people assisting the police? Since hip-hop is credited with fueling this epidemic and white, suburban youth are the major consumers of hip-hop; how does the code-of-silence impact their community? How can any responsible journalist do a story on how black people relate to the police without mentioning the pandemic of police brutality and misconduct cases across the country? With the international media attention surrounding the snitch involved in the police killing of 92-year-old Kathryn Johnston, how can they produce a story on snitching without mentioning problems related to dishonest snitches? Also omitted was the fact that activists have been working to dismantle the corrupt snitch system long before hip-hop entrepreneurs started making money off the stop-snitching slogan.
Although 60 Minutes could not cover all of these issues, they could have presented a more balanced story. With minimal research the producers could have found an articulate expert on hip-hop culture like rapper Mos Def or Davey D, a journalist who has written on the issue. An intelligent spokesperson would have taken that shining moment to expose the corrupt snitch system, and, most importantly, change the direction and perception of hip-hop overall. Instead, 60 Minutes empowered an irresponsible rapper to make ignorant, harmful comments.
Part 2: We Killed The Messenger
Assuming the stop snitching movement, as mainstream media reports it, is a hoax; the question would be, why do black people passively embrace and accept any message sent by a mainstream messenger? Black people are quick to jump on the bandwagon without doing research, or asking someone more knowledgeable. Anderson Cooper said it on 60 Minutes, so we agree. Much like back in the day when the master had the flu, WE were sick.
Black people complain about mainstream media defining our values and creating leaders by giving voice to a chosen few. Our ancestors didn't get mad or complain; they got even. They created black publications as good, or better, than their mainstream counterparts. Black newspapers were packed with thoughtful information aimed to educate, inspire, and empower the black community. These political Bibles were passed through the neighborhood and looked upon as the sacred key to overcoming oppressive conditions. People eagerly awaited their weekly messages from respected writers like Fredrick Douglas, W.E.B. DuBois, and Ida B. Wells.
Similar to the impact integration had on black schools, once mainstream newspapers included stories related to the black experience, African-Americans abandoned the black press. Unlike other minorities, as soon as blacks are accepted into mainstream they tend to dump their traditional institutions. Don't get me wrong, we should embrace diversity in mainstream media and applaud the outstanding work of black journalists and broadcasters fighting for fair coverage on the inside. However, the beloved community desperately needs the black press to separate news from propaganda and fact from fiction.
The Black community is plagued by serious social and economic problems. In the midst of a presidential election cycle we must let America know that we refuse to accept propaganda spoon fed to us by mainstream media. Let advertisers know that if they want to send us a message about our issues, do so through OUR media. Let's put them on notice that we will depend on black publishers and broadcasters who have sacrificed and struggled to exist, to be the gatekeepers of our information.
Knowledge is a commodity. Support the creators of that product. Lift up TV One, BlackAmericaweb, and BlackPressUSA. Pick up the phone today and buy a subscription to your local black newspaper. If you advertise, include black media in your advertising plan. For those surfing the net and enjoying thought-provoking writers like Faye Anderson, Anderson@large, Lucius Gantt, Dogonvillage.com or Bruce Dixon at Blackagendareport.com, purchase something at their site, donate, or just click on a google ad and give them a penny.
The press is considered the Fourth Estate. They are the eyes and ears of the people, anointed to keep watch on the government. How can people, oppressed for over 400 years, depend on our oppressors to be our eyes and ears?
Edrea Davis is a communications consultant and author of "SnitchCraft," a novel about a nightclub owner set-up by a dishonest snitch. Reach her at email@example.com or see www.snitchcraft.com. Her grandsons, DeJai, Diarran and DeKwam Davis, are pictured on our cover at the Auburn Avenue Festival, held in the historic Martin Luther King district in Atlanta, GA.