[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yazG1hKuCww[/youtube]If you live in a major metropolitan area, you’ve probably seen these shirts, with the big STOP SNITCHING graphic on them. In the video above, taken from the Criminals Gone Wild DVD series, we hear a masked self-professed criminal commenting on Dipset rapper Cam’ron’s interview with Anderson Cooper where they discuss the subject of police cooperation and whether Cam would snitch on a serial killer next door. Saying he would move and not tell anyone Cam seems to be taking the whole stop snitching ethos to a ridiculous extreme.

The moral code of not snitching arose as a response to the divide and conquer techniques of white slave holders. By rewarding slaves for snitching on one another the masters were able to ensure that slaves remained divided from one another and would never be able to trust one another enough to organize and revolt. If you can’t tell your fellow oppressed people about your plan to overthrow the bosses for fear that they’ll tell on you then you will never be able to build a group insurrection to overthrow them or take revenge.

Katt William’s in a fairly recent comedy routine decried Lil’ Kim’s going to prison for as he says “NOT snitching, something your MAMA ALWAYS TOLD YOU TO DO!” The fact that a culture of not-informing arose in response to a coordinated program of divide and conquer, setting the oppressed against one another is completely un-surprising and makes perfect sense.

That that would be incorporated into a criminal code also makes very obvious sense. Criminals do not have recourse to the law to settle their disputes and therefore often need to police themselves and those around them, often through violence. Indeed, as the masked man in the video points out, if you are not going to snitch on the serial killer then you have a moral responsibility to as he says “get your boys and go deal with him”. But as he also points out, if you are not a criminal, this shit does not apply to you.

Taken to the furthest extremes, basically, of never cooperating with the police for any reason, as Cam’ron seems to propose with his serial killer comments, reflects a completely amoral view, basically that none of us have any responsibility to anyone but ourselves. In truth, this is not at all surprising considering Cam’ron is one of the major proponents of crack rap, a genre that unrepentantly glamorizes selling drugs in your community and basically reflects a sociopathic and completely self-involved ‘everyone for himself’ attitude. The fact that Cam’ron is being given a lesson on ethics by a masked, self-professed violent criminal on a DVD that advertises among it’s features “assaults, shootings, drivebys, rape, getaways, carjackings, setups, drug spot robberies, home invasions, deadly retaliations, interviews, and more!!!” (from their youtube description) should give all his fans and knee-jerk “stop snitching” advocates something to think about.


  1. I remember when that 60 Minutes interview aired, just a few months after the Sean Bell shooting (and prior to that, two unarmed black men were killed in Atlanta by police, not to forget the 90-something year old woman killed by three plain cloths officers).

    Cam’Ron’s interview was hilarious, definitely one of the most ridiculous segments ever aired on the program –I only wished Ed Bradley was alive and had conducted the interview, instead of Anderson Cooper. People laughed at Killa Cam, when he said he’d “move.” (“That’s a bitch move, Cam”, “Cam lost some points right there”)

    The “no snitch” ethic/campaign (and “fuck the police” mentality) was prevalent, a phenomenon at an all time high in hip hop around the time the interview aired (just as we have (had?) the “no tight clothes” campaign this year in hip hop and dancehall). These campaigns are not that important, they’re fashion–like the gang bandanas you can buy in beauty shops.

    It’s great the historical context you put this in, Matt… centuries of abuse, unfair drug enforcement and mass incarceration policies can also be added that history.

    So we have American history, recent Black (and Latino, to a lesser extent) cultural influence/phenomenon, criminal code/honor among thieves, and reality/truth—A family (Mother, father, children) was burned to death in Baltimore for informing authorities about drug dealers in their neighborhood. which holds more weight? Harm communities the most?

  2. The thing is, Cam’ron’s public persona is a pose. An act. He very probably never actually sold drugs on the street, went to a well-achieving high school and has spent the last ten years totally distanced from “the streets” as a successful rapper. Not surprising, then, that he’s fairly clueless as to what’s going on.

    So really, I don’t think the question is whether Cam’ron is a sociopath but why he feels the need to pretend to be one on camera. Who connects and relates to it? Who is he reaching out to?

  3. As Shadetek pointed out, Cam’ron’s professed ethical code is one of unrelenting selfishness at the expense of others. If we take his code and apply a little Kant (the Categorical Imperative), then it means he condones and actively (through art) supports his neighbor in also acting in nothing but self-interest. What we’re seeing is the main directive of Rational Choice Theory (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rational_choice_theory), the prevailing theory of microeconomics, manifested in social behavior.

    Rational choice basically says that the system will balance itself if everyone acts in their own best interest. This is why the Republican Party is always screaming for deregulation. We’re all currently witnessing the economic and social consequences deregulation. The problem with this idea is that it induces incredible paranoia into the system: if my competitor is acting in his own best interest, doesn’t that mean he’s going to cheat? If he’s going to cheat, then I’ll have to cheat just to keep up! To get ahead I’ll have to cheat just as much as possible without getting caught.

    Matt, thanks for pointing out the history of the moral code of not snitching (MCNS, let’s say). It appears to me that Rational choice theory is the perfect stealth strategy for perpetuating the MCNS not just among those who grew up in it, but those who consume its products. Instead of straight up slavery it’s wage-slavery, and once I scrape together enough bills to buy that new Cam’ron album, what do I hear? The propagation of a moral code developed by slavers and mathematically legitimized by Rational choice theory.

    And by the way, Rational choice theory was developed at the RAND Corporation by Steve Nash in the 1950’s… if you’ll remember, Steve Nash was suffering from undiagnosed paranoid schizophrenia in the 1950’s. So basically, the system of unrelenting selfishness and pessimism RAND developed to combat the Red Menace has been applied to every aspect of Western life since then – and what did we get out of it? We got Cam’ron and an economic disaster.

    It used to be that art imitated life, but now I think life imitates art. Too bad so much art comes from sociopaths like Cam.

  4. minute detail: rational choice theory doesn’t say that the system will balance itself if everyone acts in their own best interest. it says that human beings behave by making decisions, and that these decisions are always based on quantifiable and ranked preferences, which are multiplied by some perception of risk. the configuration of these preferences is only evident through observed behavior (note the circular reasoning).

    what rational choice theor*ists* say is ‘best’, with some sort of reference to the system’s equilibrium, is another story entirely.

    the critique adam curtis makes in the trap (almost word for word what you’re saying here) is spot on, except that i feel it’s too easily interpreted as debunking rational choice theory, instead of questioning its application to all contexts. for example, i think there’s no doubt that people, like rappers, who are to a large extent in business for themselves (that is, they create their own niche market/audience/demographic), employ this type of decision-making.

    it is also the same type of decision-making a company (say a giant record company, or a gianter news company) might employ when it’s choosing to put a black rap artist with a new album on primetime television, talking about a polemical catchphrase that is on the radar at the time.

    applying a rational choice model to this behavior takes us very quickly to some of the issue/mechanism at work here. if we assume a large record company or news company (the two agents responsible for cam’ron’s appearance on the program) acts giving full priority to maximizing its own profits, the decision to have cam’ron on and talk about this issue must have been made because the predicted result was a larger audience (which is what must be optimized in order for either of these entities to maximize profits).

    so, the question it boils down to is who is the audience these agents (not so much, cam’ron, i don’t think) have in mind? this is a recurring theme at these great dutty artz threads (props to matt and co. for starting the discussion), and i think it’s important. because, as lamin makes clear with his situational question, there’s more than a few actors out there that have absolutely no say in the decision of whether and how to reproduce this message.

  5. well, not to talk to myself too much here, but i’d just like to edit that audience thing (it was late in bcn when i was writing).

    it’s not so much that white boys are the audience, rather that i feel that they are kind of central to any consideration of this topic in terms of audience. i think this is the case because of the way the entire snitching thing is presented in the mainstream media–as some sort of tribal code or custom common to poor neighborhoods, now promoted by this now-rich hypocrite.

    what i’m trying to say is that i think, in a lot of ways, cam’ron’s role is a useful distraction because it focuses the no snitching thing on him and the things he says as a guy who could very well be participating in the act birdseed describes. and it does this for the audience of the two agents i described earlier, who i feel are largely gringo grown-ups who are fearful of these trends affecting their white boys.

  6. Carlos, thanks for helping me understand rational choice theory a little better. I’m glad you’ve also seen The Trap, and I think what you pointed out about Curtis’ analysis is probably my biggest gripe with his work – in order to clarify the big picture in an acceptable amount of time he has to (over)simplify his research, which means that by watching his films I get the big picture without REALLY understanding the detailed concepts.

    I think we agree that we’re seeing the consequences of *misapplied* rational choice theory in the case of Cam’ron’s handlers. Cam’ron then, according to our discussion, is a pawn for creating a certain type of consumer. To me it seems like a kind of cultural manipulation, whereby the rational choice model is employed to gain money by convincing the maximum number of a given public that the product being pushed is authentic and socially viable. To me, that looks like a sociopathic organization acting to reinforce sociopathic tendencies in its consumers. Yikes.

  7. I am some what alarmed by Mr. Shadetek’s naivety and ignorance when discussing subjects so far away from his manhattan privileged existence. Snitching is waaaaay to much of a complex subject to write about from watching a few youtube videos and an interview with rapper Camron… a guy who is simply and entertainer….nothing more…nothing less.. and also Mr. Shadetek’s obsession with bringing up slavery in every other blog is irrelevant. Snitching and crime have been going on since the beginning of time. I feel Shadetek has to get over his own white guilt and stop associating everything with black people in America. Its insulting and as a white person myself I find embarrassing. What u people dont understand is America is way behind in its understanding of criminality…The masked man in the video clip is just a low level “criminal” will always be just that… low level… Real gangsters dont ever admit to being criminals…they will go a great lengths to get off the street as soon as possible, they own legit businesses and are on first name basis with the police and often have them on the pay roll… is that snitching??? no, its business. They often help each other out in order to keep peace in times of conflict or when one side needs to reach out for whatever reason. And most of these people ARE white. Russians, Albanians, Italians, Greeks and with a few exceptions, organized African Americans who have be shown the way and become “organized”. Also, I would like to point out that “snitching” is not just for criminals, as a white guy living in America I am not a criminal, but i cant speak for harder times or for all of my friends and family members…therefore there is always a fear of being a snitch simply from people i know… or what family members did to bring you into this world…. THIS IS A REALITY.
    But not alot of people have been exposed to these worlds and therefore Rap music and youtube maybe the closest they come. Also I would like to point out the hypocrisies in what Mr. Shadetek says when critiquing “crack rap”….how can you attack it when Shadetek has produced “gun rap” in many tracks… Its kinda like saying “dont shot crack but its okay to cap’ em instead”….lol. How can u be against “glamorizing” drug selling when you glamorizing violence and guns….i dont see the logic here. If I was you I would stick to making music then trying to be down al the time with these ignorant and insulting blogs…

  8. Thanks to everyone for your contributions. As to the last poster, no I don’t know who you are, use your real name.

    As to your arguments I don’t really understand what you mean, but I get the idea that you disagree with me and think I shouldn’t talk about this stuff.

    Oh well. I never claimed to be “down”, be a criminal or any of that. I do however talk to my friends about these things and think about them and sometimes have things to say. The main goal of any of these posts is to have a discussion, something I enjoy. I am not writing some kind of hood-policy paper that I want to everyone to adopt and sign into street-legislation, just expressing my thoughts upon seeing some of this stuff (yup, on YouTube).

    As far as speaking against crack rap now while having put out gun tunes a) I never claimed that my music and all the statements of the artists I’ve worked with comprise some kind of consistent ideological framework and b) I think there is a difference between gun tunes I’ve put out and the Dips relentless crackism. That’s just me. I actually have listened to a lot of Dipset music and enjoyed it at different moments but watching that clip I had a few things I wanted to say about it.

    As far as black and white, I was talking about a phenomenon (the stop snitch catch phrase, t-shirts, etc) that is predominantly a black-urban one, hence bringing in slavery, which is, yes, something I think about.

    Especially, as a side note, having read Octavia Butler’s excellent novel Kindred recently. Wow! Everyone should read it, even you, uknowho.

    If you want to lump that under white guilt, OK, I agree, white people are guilty of a great many atrocities against pretty much everyone else on earth. If being white and from my “privileged manhattan existence” (oooooh, diss!) means I shouldn’t ever express views about anything outside of that, well, sorry, I’m going to. Just be mad.

    I don’t understand your whole bit about white gangsters and fear of being a snitch at all and it seems a little tangential so I’m not going to speak to it.

    I’m happy that through my ignorance I was able to offend you enough to write something and contribute to the discussion.

  9. cam’ron and rational choice and not-knowing-who aside, i just found this stuff from CNN about the criminals gone wild videos:

    part one

    part two

    and what interests me is that, in part two, the dude who filmed and sold these dvds, “not to snitch or anything”, snitches when it comes to defending his product. ok, so maybe not so much rational choice shit aside, because this video is really easy to interpret as a fleshing out of that archetypal example of game theory, the prisoner’s dilemma– that game where the smartest move is always for one prisoner to betray the other (the divide and conquer techniques of white slave holders are really easy to obfuscate w/mathematical abstraction). it even comes complete with an occasionally chuckling, faux-perplexed white moderator instigating shit and distancing himself through linguistic signals that exaggerate the distance between ‘his world’ (‘our’ world, since it’s the news) and ‘theirs’ (the criminals’).

  10. The tragedy of the No Snitch policy is that it perpetuates crime, misery and inequality. you dont need to be from communities that operate with it to see that, because it only serves the criminals and not those attempting to make a legit living.

    It protects criminals from the consequences of their actions and prevents them or anyone around them from ever tapping into collective resources (ie the police) rather than having to act alone.

    The law is decided by the criminals, so becomes arbitrary and unjust, especially when combined with violence.

    Cam’ron only looks foolish because he’s caught between two worlds, with conflicting rules and acceptable behavour. One thinks he should call the cops on the serial killer, the other thinks he should pre-emtively strike against him.

    He can say neither in that context (national TV) so lets both down.

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