Rap's Blue Wall of Silence

On the television show 60 Minutes, rap artist Cam'ron made comments that upset many members of the law enforcement community (he has since apologized). He spoke on the catch phrase "Stop Snitchin'." Cam'ron uses the slogan as a theme in his music and reportedly in his personal life. To him it means, no matter what happens, you do not talk to the police. This attitude has been glorified and packaged and sold for tremendous profit. Cam'ron's fans and others in various communities have taken this message to heart and will not cooperate with law enforcement officers in any capacity. This has obviously stymied many investigations.

One investigation that has been impeded was the shooting death of Israel Ramirez. Mr. Ramirez was shot to death outside of a sound studio in Brooklyn, NY. He was allegedly shot in front of rap music artist Busta Rymes (for whom he was working as a bodyguard at the time). Busta has refused to talk to investigators. New York City Police Commissioner Ray Kelly estimates that another 25 people were present; nobody has stepped forward to testify. The murder of Israel Ramirez remains unsolved for many of the same reasons the murders of Tupac Shakur and Notorious B.I.G. remained unsolved--no one wants to "snitch." Rapper L'il' Kim committed perjury rather than cooperate with an investigation into a shooting. Black Entertainment Television created a reality show following her the days before she went to prison. Advertisements for this popular show crowed "She's going to prison with her mouth shut and her head held high."

Law enforcement really shouldn't be surprised that "Stop Snitching" is the credo of the streets. Is there really any community that appreciates those who turn others in? Kids are raised not to "tattletale" on each other. The Mafia is famous for their code of Omerta; this oath means one can never talk to the police, even if you are a victim of a crime. "Stool pigeons" don't seem to fare very well in prisons.

It is not just the civilian community who does not cooperate with the police. In some cases, the police have not cooperated with the police. Suspects have been beaten and killed and offending officers have been protected by the "Blue Wall of Silence." This code mandates that when an officer is asked about another officer's malfeasance there is only one answer- "I don't recall seeing anything." Things seemed to have changed over the last few years, but rarely is the guy from Internal Affairs welcomed into the squad room with open arms.

Despite the rare cases of the Blue Wall of Silence, most law enforcement officers are working very hard every day to improve the lives of citizens on their beat. Officers risk their lives every day, working in this country's most dangerous cities in an effort to make things better for the large percentage of hard working citizens who live there. Officers who work in inner cities are not there for the money; they want to contribute to an ailing community and be a part of its rebirth. There are enough hurdles for law enforcement to overcome without having to deal with non-cooperating witnesses.

As our profession works toward more diversity and inclusion, rap music spews hateful, divisive messages for profit. But it's too easy to criticize rap music or especially one artist of the rap community. "Stop Snitchin" appears in many different forms in many different venues. Law officers could take the attitude "hey, if they want to live in a neighborhood with single digit clearance rates for murder, that's fine by me." But officers have to realize, they live there. After the cops leave, the storeowner has to close up his shop and go home; no one is there to protect his property. The single mother has to put her children to sleep and pray no one from the neighborhood wants to come over after midnight and discuss her statement to the police. A family has to send their child to a school where street gangs have a very menacing presence.

The ones who really benefit from the Stop Snitchin' code are the street thugs and gangsters who terrorize the good citizens of inner cities. As professional law officers we must calculate the Stop Snitchin' code into our problem-solving equation. Administrators should have the foresight to be prepared to deploy resources to protect the good citizens who come forward in dangerous investigations. Police unions should lobby for strict mandatory penalties for those who attempt to intimidate witnesses. The cop on the street should know what the detective bureau is investigating and who may be a target of retaliation.

Street thugs are making a concerted, organized effort to keep their criminal enterprises afloat under the aegis of Stop Snitchin'. Law enforcement must develop a concerted, organized response to protect the good citizens who do have the courage to step forward.