Pubdate: Tue, 18 Oct 2005
Source: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (PA)
Copyright: 2005 PG Publishing
Author: Gabrielle Banks, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette


An Urban Fashion Trend

Two criminal trials this month were disrupted by an article of clothing.

A witness called to testify against three men on trial for conspiring 
to kill him was ejected from Allegheny County Common Pleas Court 
because he came in wearing a T-shirt that said "Stop Snitchin." 
Without his testimony, prosecutors were forced to withdraw charges 
against the three defendants.

The following day, during the sentencing phase of a federal drug 
case, an assistant U.S. Attorney paused to show the judge two 
T-shirts vilifying witnesses who gave prosecutors information about a 
cocaine kingpin.

One shirt had a photograph of a witness, an admitted drug dealer, who 
eventually won a reduced sentence for cooperating with authorities. 
Above his image and a photo of another cooperating witness were the 
words "No snitching allowed." On the opposite side, it read "Niggas 
Just Looking For a Deal" and, once again, "Stop Snitchin."

The back-to-back incidents were no coincidence. The shirts belong to 
an urban fashion trend that hit Boston and Baltimore about a year ago 
and is now taking hold on the streets of Pittsburgh.

Vendors at stores Downtown said they have been selling "Stop 
Snitchin" shirts for months. Variations in stock this week include a 
smiley face with a zipper for a mouth and an octagonal "Stop 
Snitchin" stop sign that's been riddled with bullets.

Salespeople at Mo Gear on Forbes Avenue and Sneaker Villa on Wood 
Street said the "Stop Snitchin" shirt may have started as a bold 
counterculture statement but now it's nothing more than a harmless 
novelty item that mostly appeals to school kids.

Whether or not it's the right thing to do, tattling on your sister 
and telling on your friends has always been unhip.

Going to police with information about a buddy who's breaking the law 
is taboo in gang culture and it almost implicitly means you're asking 
for retribution, according to police and gang experts.

But since the War on Drugs in the 1980s, law enforcement officials 
have relied more heavily on informants in their sting operations, 
said Alexandra Natapoff, an associate criminal law professor at 
Loyola Law School who published a University of Cincinnati Law Review 
article on the phenomenon. She said sentencing laws have pushed more 
people to snitch to save themselves from spending years behind bars.

With mandatory sentences attached to drug crimes, there are more 
incentives for low-level players to snitch on the top dogs.

Informants who help prosecutors significantly can sometimes meet a 
standard called "substantial assistance" and qualify for 
significantly shorter sentences.

Garry P. Smith, 47, of Hazelwood, the man sentenced in federal court 
here this month -- and pictured on the T-shirt -- testified despite 
the anti-snitching shirts people were wearing around his neighborhood 
and despite a reputed $100,000 bounty on his head. Because of his 
cooperation, Mr. Smith got his sentence cut from 20 years to seven.

Witnesses like Mr. Smith are critical to getting convictions in big cases.

According to data from the U.S. Sentencing Commission, 40 percent of 
drug trafficking prosecutions in which defendants got a sentence of 
10 years or more involved "substantial assistance to authorities" 
from informants.

Dr. Natapoff found that the pressure to become an informant has a 
disproportionate effect on the black community, because one in three 
black men between the ages of 20 and 29 are under court supervision 
at any time. In her article, she estimated that more than a quarter 
of black men in poor communities are under pressure to inform on their peers.

"Snitching becomes a fact of life," she said. "At every barbecue, at 
every holiday party, someone is under law enforcement pressure to 
snitch. That in my mind is a destructive public policy."

The Stop Snitching movement took root in the wake of those prosecutions.

A handful of rap stars, like Young Jeezy, helped spread the message 
with lyrics that shunned the idea of turning on your fellow gangstas. 
Rapper Jim Jones' video was banned in Canada because people in the 
video were donning the now-famous T-shirts. Carmelo Anthony of 
professional basketball's Denver Nuggets appeared in "Stop Snitchin," 
an underground documentary for sale on DVD that profiled drug dealers 
in his hometown of Baltimore talking about the dangers of "ratting" on people.

The anti-snitching T-shirts took off from there, promoted on Web 
sites like by and

The managers at Mo Gear and Sneaker Villa predicted the shirts will 
be "in" for another month. Then, like everything else, people will 
get tired of them.
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MAP posted-by: Elizabeth Wehrman