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Snitches Get Stitches
Zainab Muhammad
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In my high school, there are two different worlds. In the first world are the students. In our world, respect is number one. We basically depend upon ourselves for protection. And that means defending ourselves when we have a fight—not backing down or running away. It means taking action into our own hands.

Then there is the adult world. In that world, people respect each other’s space, personal belongings and opinions. Respect in their world is not confrontational, nor is it physical.

Some people might disagree with that statement because some adults act just as immature as teenagers, but usually when I am around adults, they are more respectful and well mannered. (You don’t see most adults acting stupid in public, like on the bus or train.)

Unfortunately, in school, these two worlds don’t mingle. An adult usually tells us not to fight and to walk away, and that’s really what I’d like to be able to do. But most people who try to act “hard” in school do it because they don’t want to be beat up or picked on. They don’t want to become cornballs, punks or herbs.

Adults also tell us that if we’re having a problem with another student, we should talk to an adult about it. Recently, when I went to talk to my principal about school violence, that’s what he said. He sounded really convinced that this would help.

Maybe in his world it does, but in mine, telling an adult in the school about a confrontation can lead to your social demise. Most people live by the code that “snitches get stitches.”

In some ways, it’s not the adults’ fault. They obviously can’t make anyone tell them what happened, and most students won’t. But I think that one of the reasons that there is a big gap between the students and the staff is because they give us rules without looking at the reality we face in the hallways, the classrooms and the lunchrooms.

If we felt like they were more in touch with what’s going on in our world, we might be more likely to confide in them when we have problems. Part of the reality they ignore is that we can’t back down and be peaceful in an environment where that might get us beat up.

But another problem they overlook is that the staff who are hired to protect us aren’t always doing their jobs the way they should. There have been times when two students will be about to fight in the classroom and the teacher will just say, “Don’t fight in here. Do that in the hallway,” and just close that door instead of calling the deans and having them come get the students.


The biggest problem, though, is with the security officers. In my school, there are about 11 security guards. I like most of them. They’re cool and I can hang with them, tell jokes, or crack on some of the teachers. And they do break up the majority of fights. If they don’t know you—like if you’re a freshman—they may stop you in the hallway and ask for your program card. They’ll send you to the holding room if you’re cutting.

But sometimes I think they get so easy-going and friendly that students don’t take them seriously anymore. When they become friends with you, you know you’ll get better treatment, so it’s easier to slack. If you get in a fight, they’ll put their arm around you, and rub your back and help you calm down—which is cool. And sometimes if the security guards see people doing something wrong, they might pull them to the side and give them some advice, which can actually help.

But they might also leave out important incriminating details about a fight in their report to the dean, and they’re less likely to stop you for minor violations. They want to make friends with the students so they don’t seem so authoritarian. But I only see them as fake cops with flashlights who don’t have much authority.

image by James Faber

And that’s not good when someone’s really in danger. That’s when the security guards need to stop being so friendly and start doing their jobs, taking people down to the dean or, if it’s really serious, taking them to the cops.

Now I’m not saying I want the military in our school. Actually, recently they put some cops inside and outside my school, and I discovered that I really don’t like having them here. At first, I thought they might help. But after about two weeks, I started not to like their presence.

They would threaten to take us to jail for the stupidest things, like stealing someone’s hat. And they were at almost all the stores near our school, which eliminated the hangout spots. That is when I realized I liked the security guards better.

Still, I think there needs to be a happy medium. I think the security guards need to be better trained, and stop slacking a bit, and the cops need to stop acting so much like dictators.

My whole school needs to find a happy medium, too. School policy needs to get stricter. I believe that if you have one fight and it does not involve any weapons, you should be sent to mediation and that’s it. But if you have two fights, and you were responsible for starting them, then you should be suspended. And you should be suspended for a long time, or expelled, if you fight more than three times, or your fight involves a weapon.

I don’t understand why some people in my school who always have fights are still allowed to come back. Maybe that sounds harsh, but if some of the worst troublemakers weren’t allowed to remain in our school, or if their behavior was kept in check, then maybe the rest of us wouldn’t have to run around acting so tough, and those of us who wanted it could get an education.

At the same time, I think our teachers and administrators need to become more like our friends, so we might really turn to them when we had a problem. We need teachers and administrators who we can relate to and who understand what we are going through, so we can trust them enough to really talk to them if we have a problem.

A perfect example of that would be my old global teacher. Although he was nice and playful, he also let us know that he would fail us if we did not do what we were supposed to do. In that class, there was never a fight and everyone respected each other (which is very unusual in my school).

I think that happened because he would talk to us with respect and he would always relate the lessons in class to our everyday lives. There were times when people in class wanted to kill each other. But he found ways for us to overcome that.

He would make jokes about the lesson or just give up-front good advice, and somehow we would eventually forget about what happened. He’s the kind of adult I might feel comfortable turning to if I had a problem—the kind of adult I’d know I could trust.

I think schools need to establish programs where both students and teachers can develop closer bonds. Ultimately, it would make coming to school more pleasant for both the teachers and the students, and it might bring our two worlds closer.

I know that if we, the students, want to be treated as adults, then we have to start acting like adults. But I also think that the staff needs to get a taste of our reality before they make up the rules that they ask us to live by.

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(NYC-1999-04-17)

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