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Itching to snitch
March 27, 2013 6:53 AM   Subscribe

The latest Dwayne Johnson vehicle, Snitch, has used an activist approach for its marketing campaign in a bid to expose the human damage caused by police activity in the War on Drugs. Meanwhile, the BBC notes that some law enforcement agencies in the US use informants in as many as 90% of their drug cases, with little oversight or consistency. Snitching is now an end in itself: at least 48,895 federal convicts — one of every eight — had their prison sentences reduced in exchange for informing, with much higher rates in certain states. Since the murder of informant Rachel Hoffman in 2008, there has been a growing focus on reforming the business of snitching, what the ACLU calls the "unnecessary evil." posted by MuffinMan (29 comments total) 12 users marked this as a favorite

 
The New Yorker article on Rachel Hoffman and others was an incredible eye-opening read. I had no idea that so much police work was being done in this way.
posted by armacy at 7:11 AM on March 27, 2013 [2 favorites]


You want a court system where the police have to produce actual evidence to convict you of a crime? This is what results. If you want one where they don't, by all means, go ahead.

Also blaming the police for a murder committed by a criminal is wrong.
posted by Ironmouth at 7:18 AM on March 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


One man's snitch is another man's whistleblower.
posted by Ideefixe at 7:20 AM on March 27, 2013 [2 favorites]


Also blaming the police for a murder committed by a criminal is wrong.

I dunno, strong-arming an utterly unprepared person into participating in a hazardous activity and then screwing up that activity so badly that the person gets killed? It seems to me like there is plenty of blame to be had.
posted by GenjiandProust at 7:21 AM on March 27, 2013 [27 favorites]


This would never happen to Fuzzy Dunlop.
posted by Artw at 7:27 AM on March 27, 2013 [7 favorites]


I'd urge you to read the links before simply dismissing this as a necessary evil of getting police evidence, Ironmouth.
posted by MuffinMan at 7:30 AM on March 27, 2013 [3 favorites]


Plus, from that BBC article, it seems that there is almost a "snitching industry" -- snitches who are involved in luring (is this not entrapment because they aren't actually police?) people into committing crimes so they can, in turn, become snitches -- creating criminals to justify the program?

I am not involved in any part of the criminal justice system, but I do a lot of assessment, and a problem with assessment is that it can distort the thing you are actually doing. High-Stakes Testing has, in short order, created a school culture that is driven more by satisfying the demand for test scores than a desire for useful learning. Similarly, it seems that the metrics used for judging how well police are doing has resulted in the creation of criminals to satisfy a demand for closed cases. And if those criminals can create more, all the better....

Sadly, for all the attention that Hoffman's death has caused, I imagine there is an enormous iceberg of less-photogenic but equally ruined lives under this rather putrid surface.
posted by GenjiandProust at 7:30 AM on March 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


You want a court system where the police have to produce actual evidence to convict you of a crime? This is what results. If you want one where they don't, by all means, go ahead.

Or Option C: Treating drug addiction and the subsequent possession as an illness instead of a crime.
posted by Talez at 7:32 AM on March 27, 2013 [18 favorites]


It's what you get if you want a justice system to convict people of drug crimes. Without the need to prosecute people for drug possession or distribution, the use of informants would drop dramatically.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 7:33 AM on March 27, 2013 [3 favorites]


There's a large difference between leniency for helping convict one's conspirators, and leniency for helping the cops find someone (anyone) else to prosecute.

The way the snitch system works now is basically the cops asking folks to tell on their neighbors for petty crimes in exchange for not getting harassed (as much).
posted by explosion at 7:33 AM on March 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


Or to just make shit up.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 7:38 AM on March 27, 2013 [2 favorites]


Baltimore's own...
posted by josher71 at 7:47 AM on March 27, 2013


God damn if that isn't the most hideous "infographic" I've ever seen. Note to advertisers: Just because it's an infographic promoting your movie, doesn't mean every other section of the graphic needs to be cluttered with pictures of the movie poster, movie previews, fandango links to buy tickets, buttons to share on Facebook, etc. Just make the fucking infographic. It doesn't need to be one giant call to action.

Sorry for the derail but seriously what a mess.
posted by windbox at 7:55 AM on March 27, 2013


Ironmouth, I'm not sure how you could read any of the linked stories and think this some laudable outgrowth of a functioning legal system or, really, anything to do with producing what most people would classify as evidence.
posted by lesbiassparrow at 7:55 AM on March 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


The Chicago PD routinely blames uncooperative minority citizenry for its abysmal low teens murder clearance rate ( This of course is said rather unreflectingly at the same time the city of Chicago is paying out 35 million plus in settlements for police abuses including things like torture ).
posted by srboisvert at 8:06 AM on March 27, 2013


I always tell my kids, snitches get stitches and end up in ditches. Mind your own business and stay out of the business of others.
posted by three blind mice at 8:22 AM on March 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


You want a court system where the police have to produce actual evidence to convict you of a crime? This is what results. If you want one where they don't, by all means, go ahead.

An alternative court system would be one where we don't incarcerate someone for the majority of his adult life for selling $1,800 worth of prescription pills to another adult (this is the BBC article). I do not understand how a person could not be appalled by this.

I know he isn't always the most popular person around here, but right now I happen to be reading Steven Pinker's The Better Angels of Our Nature, a book about the general decline in violence that we've seen over time. While skimming the list of atrocities and tortures that are thankfully mostly in the past, I was thinking about what people in a few hundred years will think of as our 'rack' and 'bear-baiting.' I'm reasonably confident the American prison system will be be prominent on the list.
posted by dsfan at 8:38 AM on March 27, 2013 [3 favorites]


Let's imagine the Hoffman story as a workplace safety story.

A factory owner needs a machine operator. Instead of spending the money to hire someone trained to use the machine, the owner decides to pressure an inexperienced worker to operate the machine (perhaps by threatening to reduce that worker's hours if she fails to go along). On that worker's first day on the new machine, some unexpected but not impossible crisis arises. This crisis would be extremely dangerous at the best of times, threatening even a well-trained operator. The untrained operator is killed. Would you say that the factory owner shares in the blame? Because it seems to me that Hoffman's case is a lot like this, only her "factory owner" not only coerced her into running the machine but even working at the factory....
posted by GenjiandProust at 8:49 AM on March 27, 2013 [2 favorites]


I was recently on a jury where this big sting operation involving a snitch with wearing a wire and ending with a raid with guns pointed at uninvolved family and kids, turned out to be someone exacting some sort of personal vengeance on some former friends. The "dealers" were some guys smoking dope in their mom's basement, and this guy wheedled them into selling him a minimal amount of dope. No dope, guns or money was recovered during the raid. I'm proud of being the lone holdout for not guilty, especially since WA legalized pot less than a year later.
posted by 445supermag at 8:57 AM on March 27, 2013 [7 favorites]


Raqib was arrested after Shelly arranged the sting. Several hours later, he was released. He then tracked her down and, with the help of James Matthews, strangled, mutilated, burned, and dismembered her. (Both men have since pleaded guilty to murder; in court, one witness testified that the police had revealed Shelly’s identity.)

“Now I lost my baby for an ounce of weed,” Nelson said at her kitchen counter. “It’s like they just threw her away.”
Shelly was a transgender woman (M to F) who was arrested for having an ounce of weed. The police threatened her with jail time in a male prison if she did not become a snitch. From the New Yorker article.
posted by jsturgill at 9:20 AM on March 27, 2013 [5 favorites]


Side note: The film is based on an episode of the FRONTLINE television series. Accordingly, the producer of the episode and FRONTLINE's executive producer were given producer credits for the new film. No shit.

This is, to the best of my knowledge, the first time that The Rock has been associated with the show.
posted by Mayor Curley at 9:20 AM on March 27, 2013 [4 favorites]


A grand jury charged with reviewing the facts of the Hoffman case not only indicted the two murder suspects, Green and Bradshaw, but also took the highly unusual step of issuing a scathing condemnation of the police department’s conduct. (Green and Bradshaw are now serving life sentences for the Hoffman murder; Bradshaw recently appealed.) “Letting a young, immature woman get into a car by herself with $13,000.00, to go off and meet two convicted felons that they knew were bringing at least one firearm with them, was an unconscionable decision that cost Ms. Hoffman her life,” the grand jury declared. “Less than fifteen minutes after she drove away from the offices of [the Tallahassee Police Department], she drove out of the sight of the officers who assured her they would be right on top of her watching and listening the whole time. She cried out for help as she was shot and killed and nobody was there to hear her.”

After this, the police department began to acknowledge that it had made mistakes. An internal-affairs investigation revealed that police officers had committed at least twenty-one violations of nine separate policies in Hoffman’s case. “I didn’t think it would be so many policies not being followed,” Chief Dennis Jones told the Tallahassee Democrat, which covered the case extensively. He admitted that it had been wrong to blame the victim, and expressed regret.
From the same New Yorker article linked to in my post above and in the OP.

These sorts of belated acknowledgements of wrongdoing--that come out only after outsiders in a position of power force the issue--tend to curb my enthusiasm for the elevated status policemen and police testimony are given in courts and in the eyes of the public. It doesn't take much integrity to admit to an error that someone else demonstrated. Nor does it inspire much confidence when you wait until the last possible moment before throwing a few select people in your organization under the very small bus of early retirement or a few weeks suspension/probation for major transgressions that would, in other contexts, lead to firing or jail time.

...which is not to say that anyone in the police department was ever officially sanctioned for Hoffman's death. The article didn't mention. Maybe no internal discipline was levied for getting her killed beyond a note in a few personnel files.
posted by jsturgill at 9:40 AM on March 27, 2013 [3 favorites]


Correction: officers were fired, reprimanded, and suspended for what happened to Rachel Hoffman.

I remain jaded enough to think these actual consequences sprang from unexpectedly intense media coverage and political pressure rather than any sort of desire for justice, or an internal culture of holding policemen accountable for their actions.
posted by jsturgill at 9:52 AM on March 27, 2013 [2 favorites]


I always tell my kids, snitches get stitches and end up in ditches. Mind your own business and stay out of the business of others.

Why am I suddenly thinking of Kitty Genovese?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:40 AM on March 27, 2013 [6 favorites]


I always tell my kids, snitches get stitches and end up in ditches. Mind your own business and stay out of the business of others.

Not sure if you're joking. The problem isn't just the snitches, but also the threatened jail cells behind them.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 10:53 AM on March 27, 2013 [4 favorites]


Also previously: A Snitch’s Dilemma
posted by homunculus at 3:36 PM on March 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


FWIW, Natapoff (the author of Snitching, and the blogger at snitching.org), is an amazing crim law prof. Here's a link to a talk of hers on BookTV. [prev]
posted by snuffleupagus at 4:09 PM on March 27, 2013


Why am I suddenly thinking of Kitty Genovese?

You understand what happened to her as a consensual act?
posted by telstar at 8:01 PM on March 27, 2013


Telstar, what are you talking about?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:14 AM on March 28, 2013


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