*There is a widespread cliché in the black community that cooperating with law enforcement is frowned upon. In fact snitching, as it is called, is looked upon by some as a repudiation of what it means to be African-American.
But why? And are any justifications of this standpoint valid?
The explanation for this perception in the African-American community is simple. For much of American history black people were not valued. The American society setup in the Constitution was not invested in having black people succeed. Consequently black people became less and less invested in the country or state, and less confident that agents of the country or state (law officers) would genuinely be helpful in any moment of crisis.
This suspicious and guarded perspective African-Americans have maintained served the black community while African-Americans were a relatively homogeneous group and when society’s attitude toward African-Americans could be safely assumed to be hostile.
These two statements are no longer facts in 2011. African-Americans now enjoy a very diverse experience within American society. Ergo their relationship with society and agents of society likewise varies. Police officers necessarily have different interactions with African-American teenagers selling illicit drugs in comparison to middle-aged African-Americans who have been victims of securities fraud.
Essentially the most central tension in American society (race relations) used to dictate that
American society has evolved to the point where black people can occupy elite positions of power; black people can fully invest themselves in society and expect and experience a reciprocation on the part of American society. For African-Americans engaged in legitimate pursuits this means they should cooperate with agents of the society because these agents are working indirectly on their behalf.
Even for people engaged in illegal activities, cooperating with police is beneficial. By informing on competitors one can take advantage of gaps in the market.
Snitching has a negative connotation, but in reality cooperating with agents of the government is no more nefarious when that agent is a police officer than when that agent is a mail carrier. African-Americans as a group have progressed beyond having all white people against us. Now our our mindset must progress as well.
Trevor Brookins is a free lance writer in Rockland County, New York. He is currently working on a book about American culture during the Cold War. You can reach him at [email protected]