The youth-written stories in Represent give inspiration and information to teens in foster care while offering staff insight into those teens’ struggles.

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To Snitch or Not to Snitch?
DeAnna Lyles
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It was a nice Saturday evening, and my aunt had stopped by to visit. When she was getting ready to head out, I hugged her, walked her to the door, and locked it behind her. Not even three minutes later, I heard gunshots. My heart stopped bumping for a second while I was stuck in shock mode. Once I was able to move, I ran to the window to see what was going on, hoping it was just firecrackers. A man stood in the middle of the pathway between my building and the one behind me, shooting at someone hiding behind a fence.

“Ma. They’re shooting over there!” I yelled at my mother. “Isn’t Auntie walking that way?”

I heard my mother’s slippers gliding across the floor, followed by the slamming of our apartment door. My stomach turned into knots as I looked out of the window, hoping to see my aunt walk by. Then my mother’s yelling once again interrupted me: “Let’s go, let’s go! Come on, get in the house!”

The door was slammed and locked. I walked into the living room and saw my mom and aunt there, safe and sound. My aunt looked scared and shocked as she tried to regain her breath.

“Auntie, is you OK?” I asked.

“Yeah. I’m fine now. I think I’m just going to sit here for another 20 or 30 minutes,” she replied. As we all sat there, we talked about who was shooting, whom he was shooting at, and why. We didn’t know what exactly was going on, and we decided not to call the cops because the shooting had nothing to do with us. Though the incident was definitely scary, we’re not the type to involve ourselves in other people’s business.

Cozy With the Cops?

I believe the downside of calling the cops is very basic: Though you may want to help out in a situation, it’s considered a snitch move. People might start thinking that you’re down with the police and that you’re ratting on everyone who is doing something illegal. Not only would you then become a target for retaliation, you’d also lose respect from most members of your community. For some people, snitching goes against the unwritten code of living in the hood.

My mother, my aunt, and I worried about getting caught up in the drama and knowing more than we should. Cops automatically make you more involved than you already were because they want to know everything. And even though cops say that whatever you tell them will be kept confidential, I don’t believe that’s true. The scariest thing would be the shooter finding out who called the police, which would give him a reason to come after us.

Controversial Message

The first time I remember snitching being a big deal was several years back when the “Stop Snitching” t-shirts became popular. The t-shirts were either black or white, with a red stop sign right in the middle with the phrase “Stop Snitching.” My neighborhood drug dealers started wearing the shirts. This was perceived as a threat because many drug dealers are known for being ruthless and very few people took the chance of snitching on a dealer.

image by YC-Art Dept

The shirts were highly popular among teens, because of the drama we go through with the police. Teens, at least in my neighborhood, are often stopped and frisked for no reason. And the shirts were popular among some rappers, which caused controversy in the media.

A reporter once asked Cam’ron, a rapper who wore the “Stop Snitching” t-shirts, “If a serial killer was living next door to you, would you call the police?” Cam’ron replied, “No.” He said he felt there would be no reason to call the police if the serial killer didn’t do anything to him personally.

This caused huge outrage in the media, I guess because he wasn’t trying to be a good community member. I think those who got upset believe the police will catch criminals if we all report everything, but in reality even sometimes when people do snitch, the criminals still walk around freely.

Teens Weigh In

Even though I thought the t-shirts were cool, I never bought one. I respected and understood the message that the t-shirts were promoting. It’s a life lesson that snitching can have bad consequences. But my problem with the message is that if everyone followed the no snitching rule, then criminals would be free to roam the streets.

I was curious to know how other teens felt about these problems, so I interviewed some of my classmates.

“Snitching is unnecessary. Keep your mouth shut,” said Ashley Torres, 19. Snitching, she said, is “just creating more problems.” It’s not that she thinks violent criminals should go free, it’s just that she’s not a big fan of the cops. “There are a lot of trust and respect issues with the cops,” Torres added, so why tell them anything?

I understand why people feel the need to stay quiet, but I also think about all the people being murdered, raped, and kidnapped, and the perpetrators getting away because no one will talk. Think about how the victims of crimes and their families feel. At the end of the day, these families need the help of others to catch the culprits so they can recover and properly move on.

The downside to the large numbers of people not reporting crimes is that it leads to an increase in unsolved cases, as well as a higher crime rate. Like me, my classmates Kayla Fulton, 16, and Frances Walker,18, said they’d witnessed crimes but didn’t report them. However, they also worried about the consequences of widespread unreported crimes. “If no one snitches, then the criminal is going to just keep going,” said Kayla. “They need to be stopped.” But if we’re not willing to tell on our peers and neighbors, what can be done?

Scientific Solution

I think one answer is forensic science. I want to go into forensic science one day because I find the scientific process amazingly interesting. Forensic science isn’t just about putting people behind bars, but solving crimes by analyzing things like blood, cause of death, anatomy, and my favorite, guns. (I mainly want to be a gun specialist.) A bloodied piece of clothing and fingerprints can solve a case, even if no one says a word.

Working in such a field will give me the power to solve crimes through science, without relying on witnesses coming forward. I’ll actually be helping to bring perpetrators to justice in a way that won’t endanger people in the community. Hopefully, forensic science will come to the rescue to solve that shooting outside my apartment.

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(NYC-2010-05-26)