Lies Hip Hop Told Me: Stop Snitchin’
Hip-hop culture is more tolerant than most people realize.
While there are songs that debase women, there are other songs that esteem women. While there are songs endorsing extreme violence, there are also songs opposing such violence. While there are songs exalting drug use, there are also songs disparaging drug use.
These opposing viewpoints are allowed to co-exist within hip-hop culture without trouble. Yet there seems to be one behavior within hip-hop culture that is universally intolerable and utterly taboo across the board: snitching. To be a “snitch” or a “dime dropper” is to be accursed in the world of hip-hop.
There is simply nothing worse.
In his 2004 song “Snitch,” Lil’ Wayne expressed hip-hop’s general attitude toward snitching with his warning, “Don’t let your mouth open up/’cause you don’t wanna see the handgun open up.” In 2005, The Game released a mixtape titled Stop Snitchin’, Stop Lyin’, featuring a photograph of The Game with his index finger held vertically in front of his lips, making a “hush” gesture. In 2006, Ice Cube called everyone to “Stop Snitchin’” with a song by the same name.
Perhaps the most famous example of all is Cam’ron’s 60 Minutes interview in 2007. While discussing his thoughts on the popular rallying cry to “stop snitchin’,” Cam’ron was asked if he would snitch on a serial killer living next door.
“If I knew a serial killer was living next door to me?” he replied, “I wouldn’t call and tell anybody on him. But I’d probably move. I’m not going to call and be like, ‘The serial killer’s in 4E.'”
Cam’ron explained that he could never report someone to the police, regardless of the offense, because it would violate his code of ethics — the hip-hop code to “stop snitchin’!” While many could not understand how anyone could give such an answer, most who have been influenced by hip-hop culture could sympathize with Cam’ron’s code against snitching. There are a number of reasons for this, but two are especially noteworthy.
One reason for the code against snitching is the belief that “snitches” are often themselves guilty of crime(s) and are only exposing the criminal activity of another for the purpose of keeping themselves out of prison or obtaining a more favorable sentence. As an 18-year-old, I experienced this firsthand when a local rapper and local producer both testified against me in order to minimize the punishment for their own crimes. Experiences like this make snitching appear like the ultimate betrayal.
A second and even more important reason for the code against snitching is the historically hostile relationship between the police and communities of color. It is a fact both documented and experienced that men and women of color are unjustly targeted by police, mistreated by police and disproportionately incarcerated by police. As individual police officers have committed such injustices, their fellow officers have often followed the “Blue Code of Silence” and refused to snitch on members of their community, therefore reinforcing the “us versus them” mentality on both sides.
Thus, for someone within a black urban community to go to the police with information is to go to what is perceived to be the community’s enemy, not its protector. In this light, hip-hop’s call to “stop snitchin’!” is understandable. Nevertheless, as much as I understand it and sympathize with it, it is still a harmful lie.
One reason that the call to “stop snitchin!” must be rejected is that it is an obstruction to justice. Obstructing justice is to be avoided for two reasons.
First, obstructing justice is to be avoided because it is illegal. As we saw in a previous post (“F**k tha Police”), Romans 13 teaches that God has appointed all authorities and calls his people to submit to those authorities regardless of how well or poorly those authorities fulfill their duties. We are not to do this because the authorities deserve our submission but because God does.
As the Apostle Peter explains, we are to submit to the authorities “for the Lord’s sake” (1 Peter 2:13). Therefore, in cases where refusing to share information about a crime is illegal it is also immoral in that a refusal to submit to the authorities is a refusal to submit to God.
Second, obstructing justice is to be avoided because it obstructs the image of God. Isaiah says, “The Lord is a God of justice” (Isaiah 30:18) and Moses declares, “…all his ways are just. A faithful God who does no wrong, upright and just is he” (Deuteronomy 32:4). Describing himself, God says, “I, the Lord, love justice; I hate robbery and wrongdoing” (Isaiah 61:8).
As one who loves justice and hates wrongdoing, God rewards righteousness and punishes wickedness. The psalmist writes,
“The Lord is in his holy temple;
the Lord is on his heavenly throne.
He observes everyone on earth;
his eyes examine them.
The Lord examines the righteous,
but the wicked, those who love violence,
he hates with a passion.
On the wicked he will rain
fiery coals and burning sulfur;
a scorching wind will be their lot.
For the Lord is righteous,
he loves justice;
the upright will see his face” (Psalm 11:4-6).
This is who God is: a God of justice. And the God of justice has created human beings to reflect his image (Genesis 1:26). Though that image has been distorted and broken through human sin, Jesus Christ has come to display that image perfectly (Hebrews 1:3) and to restore that image in those who belong to him (1 John 3:2). Those who are in Christ are “predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son” (Romans 8:29) and are being daily “transformed into his image” (2 Corinthians 3:18).
Our purpose both as created people and as redeemed people is to put God’s nature on display. We are to love in a way that shows how loving God is, to tell the truth in a way that shows how truthful God is, and to pursue justice in a way that shows how just God is.
Thus, when we see evil, we must expose it and do whatever we can to see justice done, even if that means snitching on someone we care about. We are not do this because we love the police or love America’s justice system. We are to do this because we love God and love to put his image on display.
A second reason that the call to “stop snitchin!” must be rejected is because it is a violation of the second greatest commandment. When asked “which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus answered, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments” (Matthew 22:36-40, emphasis mine).
If one has helpful information on a criminal case and fails to snitch, they are failing to love their neighbor.
Cam’ron’s interview illustrates this well. In saying that he would move away from a serial killer instead of report him Cam’ron reveals how much he loves himself and how little he loves his neighbor. He loves himself enough to ensure his own safety by removing himself from the apartment complex, but he does not love his neighbors enough to keep them safe by removing the serial killer from the apartment complex. When we are aware of criminal activity and do not report it we are guilty of the same thing.
By failing to protect those who may be victimized in the future, we are failing to love them. In addition, we are also failing to love those who have been victimized in the past by denying them the justice that they desire and deserve.
While the reasons that hip-hop culture is generally opposed to snitching are important, they are not more important than the two greatest commandments: to love God and our neighbor. If we love God, we will express that love by submitting to the authorities and by putting his image on display. If we love our neighbor, we will express that love by protecting them from harm and helping them obtain justice.
That is not to say that we should ignore the injustices perpetrated by America’s justice system in general or city police in particular. To the contrary, we should expose these injustices and work toward a just system for the same reason that we should snitch: because we love God (who loves justice) and love our neighbors (who need justice).
At times, true justice may seem unachievable. But Jesus assures us it is not. When he returns he will bring perfect justice to the earth where “There will be no more death, or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away” (Revelation 21:4).